Flexible working is a team effort – how?

Why is flexible working sometimes hard to implement and manage effectively? Because it takes effort from each and every one in a team to make it work. Flexible working can, on occasion, cause friction between colleagues. Resistances between colleagues can build if flexible working is implemented in immature cultures. Attitudes like ‘its alright for some’ and ‘i need to pick up all the slack’ are reported by both the flexible workers and those that don’t work as flexibly. Flexible workers also report they often miss out on work-related updates and feel they are on the receiving end of the ‘banter’. About two-thirds of part-time workers say they feel isolated and less connected to their workplace, according to research conducted by Timewise.   

These attitudes often arise when flexible working is not applied consistently. So what are the core values where consistency needs to be present? From the conversations, consultations and case studies that Flexee has engaged with, three key areas became evident that help create a functioning flexible team (Figure 1). 

1. High Trust – Flexible working works best in high trust environments. Sadly, there is often the tendency to conflate presenteeism with performance. But measuring performance based on ‘face time’ rather than outputs hardly encourages trust. Similarly, objecting to flexible working as a result of concern over how people’s performance will be measured and managed is a clear show of lack of trust. There is that old saying that ‘no one gets out of bed to do a bad job’ so why is it so hard to trust that the employees will do their best? 

Figure 1: The 3 core team values of a flexible team

2. Give-and-take – It is much easier to manage a team of people who all work the same, and it is much more difficult to manage a team of people with variable patterns of working. Many managers are reluctant to grant flexible working for this reason. One of the biggest issues is that managers expect those that work flexibility to be ‘flexible with flexibility’, otherwise it will impact on the availability of staff and on the business to cover its needs (ACAS, 2017). 

Being ‘flexible with flexibility’ is another way of saying that it is important to have a mentality among the team whereby ‘if I scratch your back, you scratch mine’. While this may feel counterintuitive for the flexible workers, this is an important aspect of having a sustainable business that makes flex work. The way to ensure this is for all to understand what flexible working is, what it means to them, what are their own key needs to ‘take’ and therefore where can they offer to ‘give’. For example, in vet practice, we often hear the working parent needing to have a hard finish time and usually earlier than the rest. However, they are often happy to help on weekends where childcare pickup isn’t a pressing need. This is an example of taking the flexibility to finish early and giving by working at weekends. 

3. Open Communication – Open, honest and continuous communication is important in many aspects of teamwork. However it is not how well we communicate things, what’s important is how well we are understood. For this, it is important that everyone has some basic understanding of the topic at hand, has had a chance to reflect on what it means to them and then can effectively engage in informed conversation. Flexible working means something different for everyone. This can cause a problem when trying to discuss what ‘flexibility’ means for our business. 

Flexee has created a Flexible working CPD course to help educate the whole team on the topic, start from the same page, and to enable effective and fruitful conversations. You can find the CPD course within the Flexee Hub. The course comprises primarily of short educational videos, but there are also accompanying worksheets and handouts. 

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