A 2022 survey of NZ SME’s identified that employees are demanding more flexibility in their hours and place of work, in line with global post-pandemic trends (theconversation.com). The survey recommends: “now is the time for employers to work with employees, rather than against them, for mutual benefit and increased productivity”. Employers must offer flexibility (where possible) to be competitive in attracting and retaining good staff.
However, managing a flexi working team presents new management challenges. This article considers the benefits of flexi working, common challenges faced and presents solutions to those challenges.
Firstly, what are the legal requirements for NZ employers?
Any permanent employee can apply for flexible working arrangements under the Employment Relations Act including changes to hours, days and place of work. Employers must provide a process for employees to apply for flexible working arrangements, consider requests in good faith and respond within one month. The employer may need to discuss the request with the employee and perhaps the wider team to make sure that the arrangement would not adversely affect the business, the team or customers.
The employer can suggest an alternative arrangement to minimise the impact on the business and if they can’t reach agreement with the employee, they may have grounds to decline the request. There are a number of grounds for declining:
Potential benefits for both employees and employers are improved wellbeing, work/life balance and increased productivity (with reduced commuting time and interruptions). These benefits are likely to also lead to a reduction in staff turnover.
On the other hand, there are also challenges in managing a flexi working team.
It takes more effort to include all staff in communications and share knowledge in a flexi working environment. Company culture and relationship building are easier to manage with frequent in-person contact.
Coordination of workflow and meetings is more challenging with flexible working arrangements. Not all tasks can be done remotely and working arrangements need to be coordinated to make sure there’s coverage for office-based activities.
For managers who like to keep a close eye on their team or who have team members that require close supervision to produce results, flexi working can be difficult.
Set out a clearly defined policy for flexible working arrangements in your business. Think about what resourcing the business needs to operate effectively and meet customer needs and determine how much flexibility you can accommodate. Set out your expectations when staff apply for flexible working arrangements.
Adapt your internal business communications to make sure that the whole team is kept in the loop, whether they are working remotely or in the office, standard hours or alternative hours. Make it clear to your team what communication you expect from them and take advantage of technology to bridge communication gaps. Make sure there are opportunities for informal and social contact to maintain working relationships and a sense of belonging.
3. Workflow management
Maintain visibility of working arrangements across the organisation so that the whole team is clear about the days and hours that individuals will be working and where they will be. Communicate regularly about deadlines, priorities and accountability and consider using workflow management software to make this process easier.
For flexi working to succeed, managers must manage their teams on outputs, rather than hours worked. This means implementing an effective process for setting goals, tracking results, supporting people to overcome obstacles and providing feedback. If people are producing results, it’s not so important when or where the work is done.
It looks like the demand for flexible working arrangements is here to stay. (It’s certainly my experience as a recruiter that job seekers prioritise flexibility and work/life balance). While there are challenges for employers, those who can adapt to a new way of working will reap the benefits of being more competitive in attracting and retaining good people and better productivity.
If you don’t know where to start in setting up a flexible working policy for your business, you may want to use my checklist to clarify what you need to do.
Posted: Thursday 18 May 2023