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Preparing for a More Flexible World of Work

Carol Anderson

Founder, Anderson Performance Partners

Every so often, I become overwhelmed by how much our world has changed in the past decade. We don't wait for snail mail anymore because email arrived, and all but replaced it. And even emails are now getting replaced by messaging tools that allow us to discuss business issues with all the appropriate stakeholders and come to a decision in a matter of minutes.

As a result, a remote workforce is more realistic than ever. For example, I have a client whose leadership team is scattered across the eastern United States, yet they interact with each other (virtually) more often than they do with colleagues down the hall.

Other phenomena are changing the way companies do business as well. When customers are upset, for example, they post a review on TripAdvisor. The same goes for disgruntled employees—they go straight to Glassdoor.

Still, despite some of these changes, we continue to cling to 40-hour work weeks, brick-and-mortar workplaces and budget planning cycles that distract everyone from real work for a month.

Perhaps it's time to challenge some of those strongly-held paradigms and consider a more flexible world of work. After all, if we've seen so much change already—image what the next decade holds.

Boston College recently published a study that defines various types of workplace flexibility, including flex schedules, reduced hours and flexible work spaces. The research also identified an idea new to me called ROWE, or a Results Only Work Environment. What a concept! Define the work to be done, and pay for that alone. Think about how freeing that could be—no overtime, no schedules and actual business results.

2016 research study found that "workers who are allowed to have a voice in the hours and location of their work not only feel better about their jobs, but also less conflicted about their work-to-family balance." Forgive me, but duh.

So how can organizations begin to challenge the status quo? Here's what they need to do.

Define the Work

As leaders and HR executives, we do a poor job of defining expected results. We offer job descriptions with specific duties, but the process of setting expectations, providing feedback and redirecting where necessary is infrequent and often inept.

That won't cut it in a flex workforce. We have to get better at expressing clear expectations, and following through on them.

Pinpoint the Role of Leadership

Leaders today seldom realize how critical their roles are. They rail against setting expectations, giving feedback and holding their employees accountable—that's likely because today's performance management process doesn't work.

The latest research argues for more frequent, two-way performance dialogue. But unless leaders see the value in it, have the necessary skills to implement it and make time for it, even revamped processes will still generate management frustration.

It's leadership's responsibility to set expectations, provide feedback and evaluate results. It has to start at the top.

Provide Tools, and Teach the Skills Needed to Use Them

It's up to HR to not only provide leaders with key tools, but also demonstrate their value and usefulness. One employer I worked with had a massive and robust SharePoint site with access to resources for dealing with change management, giving feedback and holding effective meetings. But these resources were dormant. Leaders either didn't know they needed them, or simply didn't know how to use them.

If we want to evolve to a more flexible workplace, leaders have to lead effectively in a consistent and appropriate manner.

The message to HR? Provide tools, sell their benefits, coach leaders on their value and, of course, teach leaders how to use them. Whether it's an introductory class or a quick coaching session, guidance makes all the difference.

Photo: Creative Commons

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