Few HR professionals would disagree that we are in the middle of a revolution in flexible working. A 2016 Gallup survey revealed that nearly half of all employed Americans spent at least some time working remotely and that the availability of flexible scheduling or work-from-home arrangements is playing an increasingly important role in employees’ decision about whether to accept or leave a job. Due to new technologies that make flexible work easy and convenient, more companies are integrating remote work as a standard practice in their overall workplace culture.
However, not every company is finding the transition from fixed to flexible work to be an easy one. For all those companies that are reaping the benefits of remote work—including enhanced employee productivity, efficiency, and reduced employee turnover—many others are struggling with how best to embrace flexible working arrangements so that they can serve employers and employees alike most effectively.
This is where the HR department comes in. HR professionals can be an invaluable resource for managers by helping to ensure that processes related to flexible working are fair and legally compliant, and that managers and employees alike feel empowered to get the most out of a flexible working arrangement. Read on for a look at five important ways that HR can lead the way in creating a flexible work culture that works well for everyone.
Help the organization set clear goals.
While it may seem obvious that flexible working arrangements lead to increased employee autonomy, not all companies realize that this means that business goals must be clear and straightforward. When employees are working with increased independence and reduced oversight, the benefits will be greatest when they fully understand what they are working toward. HR can help by working with senior leaders to ensure that—from the top down—goals make sense and are easy to understand, and are geared appropriately depending on the organizational level. In addition, since goals can change quickly in the modern business environment, checking in on them needs to be an ongoing process in order to ensure that the focus can shift when necessary.
Help to shift the emphasis from processes to outcomes.
While remote work has been shown to boost employee productivity, the perception nevertheless remains that employees who work on-site alongside their managers are more productive than their off-site counterparts. The perception can sometimes lead on-site workers to receive higher performance ratings and more promotions, which can cause tension and reduce team cohesion. HR’s role is to help managers focus on achievements rather than processes; that is, whether or not employees have met specified goals—not on how or where they have done so. Clear goals are important for this process, as are KPIs, precise timelines for when results will be measured, the use of tools that facilitate management-by-outcome, and modeling outcome-focused behaviors by executives and senior leaders to set an example for the entire organization.
Design appropriate policies.
When it comes to flexible working, HR professionals must tackle the challenges of helping to design policies that are transparent and allow for discretion. Organizations must be crystal clear about the boundaries of what is acceptable in a remote work situation. Transparency surrounding areas such as core hours, check-in’s before changing work patterns, and appropriate work locations will help to ensure the practice is fair for everyone and that flexible working does not result in friction or the perception of preferential treatment. At the same time, however, employees’ distinct personal circumstances and backgrounds will play a role in their workplace requirements, and managers need to have the discretion to be able to set up a flexible work situation for one employee that wouldn’t necessarily be suitable for someone else.
Ensure that the right technology is in place.
There’s no question that technology has been one of the main drivers of flexible working. Therefore, it’s very important that HR help to ensure that the appropriate technology is in place and functioning properly in order to allow remote employees to do their jobs effectively. The smooth operation of technology is usually prioritized at central locations such as offices and warehouses, although it is not always overseen with as much care in complex remote work situations. However, if technology isn’t working properly for flexible workers, not only does productivity suffer, but so does employee trust and motivation.
Support managers with tools and training.
There’s a reason why many companies continue to struggle to embrace remote or flexible work: simply put, leading and managing is still easier (or it is at least perceived that way) when managers and employees are in each other’s physical presence. However, technology can help to bridge this gap. A range of new collaboration and communication tools means that managers and employees can check in with each other on a regular basis, ask and answer questions, and attend meetings—all from different locations. Human resource’s role is to help ensure that managers are comfortable using these tools and that they have the training and support they need to make the most out of them.