A manager’s guide to flexible working

Flexible working may have been the only ‘happy’ by-product of the 2020-2022 global pandemic. Employers who had previously dismissed their staff’s right to request flexible work arrangements were forced to adapt, and forced to concede that their workforce were more productive as a result: in fact, three in five people who work flexibly put in more hours as a result of being allowed to do so.

Gone are the days of the rigid, arbitrary 9-5 desk job, instead allowing your workers to choose hours that suit them will ensure they bring their A-game to work, all the while finding a better work life balance. Simple adjustments such as being able to pick their child up from school without judgement, stay at home with their beloved pet dog, or even forgo a lengthy and expensive commute into an office every day, mean that employees are more dedicated to their company and work than ever before. Flexible working means happier staff, lowers costs and greater productivity, with 76% of employers seeing improved retention rates

But it is an adjustment. If your team don’t work the same hours as you, and they’re working from all over the place, how do you keep them together as a team? How do you get anything done? As a manager, not only is it important for you to lead by example and show this flexibility in your own working life, but you also have the responsibility of motivating, supporting and empowering your team to work together, even when physically apart or on different time schedules.

So what can you do as a people manager to keep team morale and productivity high? Check out our ultimate guide for managing and motivating a remote workforce.

Start with a great virtual onboarding experience

First impressions are important. Introduce the company culture and create clear virtual onboarding for newcomers that blends eLearning, webinars, and other online remote team building activities. Encourage team members with quizzes and activities. Create a sense of friendly competition with a leaderboard and celebrate the wins with prizes.

Kit out your remote team with a killer home working space

Enable your people to create a motivating and comfortable home working space where they can do their best work.

Inspire them with creative remote work kits that don’t include just a laptop and a uniform. Give them something more to work with, such as monitors for the extra screen space, extended keyboards to have more reach, ergonomic chairs and laptop stands to avoid bad posture, and maybe even a backdrop for those client video meetings. Ensure your staff feel welcome and motivated to start work with useful branded merchandise and enticing gifts. Send them a desk plant to name and live in their home office!

Get to know your team – as a whole, and as individuals

It’s more important than ever to take the time to learn about their individual circumstances and challenges and to work to accommodate these. Move meetings to help those juggling work and home life. 

Set up regular one-on-ones to make the space for these valuable conversations

Research reports that 65% of employees experience a drop in meaningful conversations with their managers when working from home. This weekly meeting is an opportunity for members of your team to relay any challenges—personal or work-related—that could lead to unfulfilled briefs, missed deadlines and extra stress later down the line. It’s also an important chance for you to build on your personal relationship, so make time for casual chit-chat and tell them about yourself as well.

Cultivate and nurture your community

Working remotely can be isolating. Have a chat system to send quick and regular messages to team members, just as your team would chat to the people next to them in the office. Make specific chats for people who want to ask work related questions, those who want to share funny and lighthearted content, or even chats to celebrate milestones like birthdays and engagements. These channels serve as support and encouragement lines to establish a steady work-life balance — with a sense of togetherness.

Prioritise wellbeing to maximise your team’s potential

The key to managing a team successfully, whether you’re working remotely or not, is to make sure you consider your own needs. If your days are rammed with meetings, with no time to take a breather, or you’re overwhelmed with deadlines and don’t have enough support, then you’re not going to be able to be there for your team.

Rely on your peers for extra support

Close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to feel engaged and motivated at work. As a manager, having other managers with whom you can exchange advice, solve problems and tackle team challenges is also important.

No meeting zones

Having emphasised the importance of keeping connected, it’s also worth noting the importance of downtime from calls. As a manager, the majority of your day can be spent hopping from video call to video call, with barely enough time for a loo break in between. Being in front of the camera all the time can be stressful and draining.

Likewise, when you’re watching someone else, much more energy is expended understanding and interpreting cues like facial expressions, tone and pitch of voice and body language, compared with talking face-to-face.

Take real breaks

Lunch ‘al desko’ isn’t a proper break. It can be tempting to sit at your desk and browse the internet during lunch, especially if you’re working from your kitchen. Encourage your team to take proper breaks—and set an example by taking them yourself!

81% of employees who take a daily lunch break reported having a strong desire to be an active member in their company. Getting breaks are beneficial to our work and have been shown to vastly improve focus. Take time away from your screen by going for a walk or run, spending some time in the garden or a nearby park, or doing some yoga. The benefits are clear—one study found that walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity.

If you or a team member are ill, don’t encourage them to continue working just because they’re at home. Regardless of where you are, rest is needed to recuperate. Take a holiday, shut your laptop, turn off your work phone and leave your virtual office behind. Respect this, and set a good example to your team.

Set boundaries

When working from home, the boundaries between work and home can become increasingly blurred. It can be tempting to check emails or respond to chat messages late into the evening, on weekends, or even when you’re on leave. 

Replace your commute by exercising before or after work. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing to unwind and re-energize, make space and time for it.

Schedule down time

Providing a stress-free environment is important for you and your employees and will gain you lots of extra points. Having monthly, or weekly celebrations and catch ups with colleagues to let them unwind gives everyone a chance to enjoy a shared experience. Recreate ‘water cooler moments’ by implementing informal video calls with just one rule: no work-related talk. It will lift your team’s spirits and help them get to know each other better.

Make face-to-face meetings count

Put time and effort into planning off-site meetings to bring your teammates together, reset and revitalise around common goals.

And finally, maintain a growth mindset…

…unlike TV celebrity Lord Sugar who, when responding to a PwC policy that gave staff Friday afternoons off over the summer said: “This is a bloody joke. The lazy gits make me sick. Call me old fashioned but all this work from home BS is a total joke.”

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