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Flexible Work – Beyond Working Remotely 

February 7, 2021
Post Contributed By: Brad Lutz, CPHR Candidate

As I’m writing this, we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Many workplaces have been forced for the first time to be flexible in nature – providing the ability for more employees to work remotely. 

The trend towards flexibility is a positive one, for employees and employers. The research is pretty consistent that workers who do at least some of their work remotely, are in fact more productive. Some interesting recent studies suggest that employees who work both in the office and remotely have the highest level of engagement (https://blog.hubstaff.com/remote-workers-more-productive/). 

Although remote work has become somewhat synonymous with a flexible work environment, it is time to explore some other aspects of a truly flexible work environment, with several anticipated benefits, including increased employee productivity, engagement and well-being. If done properly, a truly flexible work environment will benefit employers and employees. 

A Truly Flexible Work Environment: 

  1. Flexible Location (Remote and In-Office)
    People who have the ability to work at home and in the office are the most engaged. This seems to make sense. They have the flexibility to work in both locations, have the ability to benefit from working at home and having dedicated quiet time, but also have the benefit to connect and collaborate with their co-workers in person. This is the best of both worlds. Interestingly, employees who are exclusively remote are more likely to be actively disengaged in their jobs than those who don’t work remotely at all! The personal contact is crucial!  
  2. Flexible Hours
    Some people do their best work early in the morning. Others are far more creative and productive in the evening. With remote work, there are times that are naturally going to be more quiet than other times. Setting clear expectations and deadlines is important, so that people can work whenever they will be the most productive in achieving those expectations. If quality expectations and deadlines are met, why would we care if the work was done at 5am or 9pm?  You will want some overlap of schedule so that there are natural connection points built in. Otherwise, is there a need to control someone’s schedule?
  3. Flexible Job Descriptions (Profiles)
    We have heard for a while now that it makes sense to play to peoples’ strengths, yet job descriptions rarely change to accommodate the strengths (and weaknesses) of the individual team members. This has to change.   

We must recognize that playing to peoples’ strengths requires that we stop the managerial temptation to fix peoples’ weaknesses. 

I am in hockey withdrawal right now, so let me provide a hockey example: Most people (at least in my generation) know about Wayne Gretzky. In his prime, no-one was offensively better. Defensively however, Wayne was a liability. Did his coaches ask him to back-check harder? No. Did they ask Gretzky to get into the corners and dig out loose pucks? No. Did they criticize him for not getting deep in his own end to help out the defense? Generally, No. His coaches were wise enough to know that you let Wayne be Wayne and you send him out there to score and set up his wingers to score. If you tried to “fix” Wayne’s defensive weaknesses, he might get a bit better on defense, but you lose so many of the goals you would have gotten by playing to his strengths. Let the defense play to their strengths and let Gretzky play to his. 

Closer to home, our team includes Devan and Jane (who are often referred to collectively as “Jevan”).  Devan and Jane bring very different strengths to our team. Jane is a dynamic communicator and facilitator and loves to be in front of people but is not great at (and doesn’t enjoy) the detail-oriented work. Devan does not enjoy the stage (even though she is good at it!) but excels at looking at complex data, seeing problems immediately and can decipher the big picture quickly from the complexity. When all of us were working for a previous employer, Jane had the task of balancing our benefits payroll deductions with our benefits premium payment. She hated this task and often had difficulties balancing the numbers. At one point, Jane went to the CFO and jokingly gave him a $10 bill and advised that she would likely be out by about $2.50 each month and the $10 would cover the next 4 months. Devan offered to help Jane. Devan had the premiums balanced in about 10 minutes and in another 10 minutes, Devan had also changed the spreadsheet to avoid some obvious balancing problems so it would be easier in the future.   

Please don’t be the manager (or the HR Professional) that tries to “fix Jane.” Jane doesn’t need fixing, she needs responsibilities and assignments that play to her strengths. We could have held Jane accountable to fix the spreadsheet and balance it. We could have let Jane continue to dwell in the hatred of that work, but why? Jane is immensely talented and needs to score her goals in a different way! Let Devan score the goal with fixing the detail-oriented process. 

Flexible work is growing (in all three forms). I have heard the most excuses with respect to the flexible job profile. As long as we continue to force fit people (and their strengths) into prescribed roles, we miss a huge opportunity to score more goals. Even if, on a micro basis, we as professionals and leaders look for ways to adjust duties and projects where people are going to excel, it will pay dividends.   

Yes, some duties that no one enjoys still need to be assigned, but if we can get everyone on the team doing at least a few things they excel at, the magic does happen. Don’t you want your team to score more goals? 

Brad Lutz, CPHR, is the Founder and President of Acuity HR Solutions.  

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