Mainstreaming flexibility reduces workplace conflict
Flexible work can be fraught with challenges if employees perceive that it's being offered on an unfair basis, but "mainstreaming" flexibility helps employers avoid many of these issues, according to a new paper from the Australian Institute of Management.
Key issues for managersThe skills managers need to manage flexible work effectively are similar to those required to manage in a non-flexible environment, but managers of flexible staff might find themselves focusing more on workforce planning and scheduling.
In terms of "getting the job done", managers might need to juggle rosters, carry out more detailed forecasting of work volumes, engage additional staff to cover specific tasks or hours, introduce new performance-based pay arrangements, or re-engineer existing roles to quarantine tasks that require high levels of availability or travel, for example.
Managers might also need to handle meetings differently, and establish guidelines for scheduling meetings. This might mean avoiding scheduling meetings between 10am and 3pm - which is less straightforward when ad hoc or urgent meetings are required - as well as considering alternatives to face-to-face meetings, such as teleconferences or circulating agendas and minutes for those who cannot attend.
"The style of meetings may need to change: even more than face-to-face meetings, teleconferences work best with a firm agenda, papers circulated in advance, clear decisions and expectations for follow up, and minimal side-discussions."
A key role for managers lies in managing the impact of each staff member's flexible work on their colleagues.
Colleagues might think a flexible worker is less committed to the job, or is unreliable, or they might feel jealous or resentful and perceive that their own workload has increased.
According to the paper, some of these perceptions could be grounded in reality, because "unless managers are careful to set workloads appropriately for all staff, it may be the case that full-time workers are expected to pick up additional work, or cover for their part-time colleagues".
On the other hand, colleagues might perceive that someone is "knocking off early", for example, and not realise they work additional hours from home each evening.
"It is important for all team members to appreciate the contribution of each of their colleagues, and not to fall into the trap of measuring inputs such as hours in the office," the report says.
"A workplace culture where issues can be raised openly and addressed professionally helps minimise potential negativity. In addition, colleagues' attitudes to flexible work are easier to manage when flexibility has become mainstream within the organisation. This prevents the jealously which may arise from the perception that flexible work is a benefit only offered to a few employees, or to certain kinds of employees. Equally, it is important for flexible work to have the explicit support of senior people within the organisation, including the board and executive team."
Managers working flexibly not yet the normManagement remains strongly perceived as a full-time "on site" role, "where the manager is constantly available to supervise staff and give guidance", the paper points out.
The effect of this is that very few managerial or senior roles are offered with flexible work options.
Mainstreaming flexible work will help to challenge this, the paper says, because "once flexibility is understood as a normal part of the work environment, it is easier to imagine how senior roles can be effectively performed by staff working flexibly".
Managers working flexibly will need to communicate their availability clearly to staff members, as well as develop supervision and communication strategies they can use regardless of where people are located. Managers should also make their diaries available to staff, and schedule blocks of time for meetings, teleconferences and so on, so all staff understand when and how they can be contacted.
AIM is welcoming comments on the paper until 31 August.