5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace

Flexible_Work_Schedule_HourglassMore and more employers are recognizing the value of offering flexible-schedule options to their workforce According to the recently released Top 50 Law Firms for Women, even the legal industry is putting a premium on flexible options as a way to retain valued employees. At first, many employers want to approach flexible schedules and alternative work arrangements on a case-by-case basis. And, although this is a good way to find the best fit for your organization, it is also a potential hotspot for employees to feel they’ve been treated unfairly when compared to others who made similar requests. 

There are several ways to ensure that you don’t lose the positive benefits of your initiative as a result of disorganization or poor planning when accepting these requests. Here are five of the fundamental characteristics of a start-up flexibility program.

1. Outline a formal business-proposal approach. Require employees to submit a proposal describing their request. Have them clearly define the logistics of their proposed work arrangement, including how they will complete their work, how they will monitor and safeguard their productivity levels, and how their request would impact other aspects of the business, both negatively and positively. Communicate these requirements to all employees—don’t wait until you are approached with a request. If everyone knows what is required, you don’t risk dissuading some deserving employees who are intimidated by the unknown.

2. Create a specific review mechanism. All requests should be reviewed as a matter of course. Even if they are not likely to be implemented, every request for flexibility should be reviewed in the same manner. This will prevent complaints about favoritism and inequality. This is particularly important for the employee whose request is granted so she is not ostracized by others whose requests were denied.

3. Take it slow. As a matter of policy, implement any new flexible arrangement only on a temporary, trial basis. Communicate that the testing period will last six months and establish checkpoints for review and re-assessment throughout the trial period. As with any work arrangement, success is viable only where everyone knows what to expect from others and what will be expected of them. Will the employee be required to attend the monthly team meeting, which is held on Fridays, when her new arrangement has her working from home on Fridays? Any agreement will be successful only to the extent that all parties get what they bargained for.

4. Make it a team process. Take the proposal to the employee’s team members. Preferably, the employee can present her ideas to her coworkers and solicit feedback and suggestions individually. Using that feedback, she can tweak her proposal and present it again, this time with any feedback and suggestions going directly to decision makers.

5. Remember that this is a custom fit. Employees who have not demonstrated self-sufficiency and initiative should not necessarily be the first to receive special work arrangements. If an employee traditionally has been undependable or has required more hands-on management and coaching, then the flexible arrangement may not be a good fit. Be sure to consider the individual’s demonstrated work habits when customizing an alternative work arrangement.