Creating a flexible work program for your organization can seem tricky, but using a systematic approach to refine your program will produce a list of options that benefit both your organization and your employees.

My colleague Karen Mann and I set out to create a project that helps HR leaders implement flexible work at their organization step by step, from start to finish. Our organization, McLean & Company, is a research and advisory firm that helps HR leaders solve the problems that keep them up at night. Our mandate is “research that gets used, not read” so we launched ourselves knee-deep into articles and expert interviews to distill an easy to follow process for helping organizations determine which of the many flexible work types (telework, job sharing, extra vacation time, the list goes on…) would be most suitable for them. Here are our key learnings from our project, Use Flexible Work Arrangements and Time Off to Attract and Retain Top Talent” :

Flexible Work Is Already Happening
Flexible work is happening in your organization, whether it is through a formal program, or not. Many employees have “deals” with their managers to work from home once a week, or to leave early the occasional day for personal reasons. This makes the case for organizations to formalize their flexible work arrangement (FWA) programs, as these kind of under the table arrangements lead to inequity and tension for employees who aren’t allowed to have the same privileges.

It also means that employees’ use of FWAs isn’t being monitored. Despite the reluctance of executives and managers to implement formal FWA programs, there’s actually more of a likelihood that a formal FWA program will create fair guidelines that suit both the employee and the employer, and create greater productivity and morale.

Flexible Work Arrangements are the Norm
Flexible work arrangements are no longer a trend, but table stakes for most HR departments. The broad category of Flexible Work Arrangements was the second most frequently implemented trend, and the fourth most impactful trend as per McLean & Company’s HR Trends and Priorities 2014 Survey.

Use a Variety of Flexible Work Options
Getting the mix of types of flexible work right is vital to the success of your FWA program. For the purposes of our project, we divided the types of flexible work into 4 categories: Flex time, flex time off, flex location, and results only work environment.

Variety of Flexible Work Options

How to Choose Flexible Work Arrangements to Offer
When organizations are trying to decide which flexible work arrangements they want to integrate, they need to ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is the problem you are solving for? Flex location can help cut down on real estate costs if you downsize office space, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for all organizations. What are you looking to fix and/or optimize by implementing FWA?
  • What do your employees want? Your FWA program can dramatically help employee engagement and productivity, but only if the flexible work types selected are the ones that employees actually want and need. Use focus groups, or a sample survey to try and figure out what it is your staff needs. Involving your team also helps to get their buy in to the program.
  • What can your management team support? One of the most common factors in the failure of FWA programs is lack of manager buy-in. You want to implement enough FWA types that all employees can find something to work for them, but not so many that it becomes unwieldy for managers to keep track of where and when their employees are working.
  • What FWA types is the work itself conducive to? This is the most important piece of the puzzle. Ultimately you want your FWA program to improve workplace productivity, not hamper it. Consider allowing different FWA programs by department, based on what their work type suits best. Keep in mind that some types of flexible work are easier to implement than others.
  • What will your FWA program affect? Implementing flexible work will affect other HR functions. For example, you might have to implement new performance management techniques for full time teleworkers, or change your compensation and benefits program now that you’re allowing part time work. Before implementing anything, make sure that you look at other programs that might be affected

Flexible Work Isn’t One Size Fits All
Make sure that you are choosing options that suit your organization and that you are creating boundaries and guidelines that both employees and managers feel comfortable with. A pilot is a great way to test out your options and see if your program needs tweaking.

Once your organization decides to implement flexible work, use it to your advantage! Make sure that you promote it on the careers portion of your website, and communicate it widely to your current employees.

photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com

Use Flexible Work Arrangements and Time Off to Attract and Retain Top Talent

Courtesy of McLean & Company