The daily practices that bring flexible work to life.
Modern workplaces are flex by name and flex by nature. Progressive flexible policies are great, but they’re only one part of the bigger picture. To bring flex work to life, those policies have to be actioned.
We can do that in several ways, from how we talk about flexible work to the nuts and bolts of working and collaborating in a flex environment.
To get your teams off on the right foot, we’ve put together this guide to the daily practices and habits that create healthy flexible workspaces, drawing from the Team Work section of the Beamible Flex Playbook.
It’s no secret that language can wield great power. The words we choose, the tone we use, and the extra-linguistic cues we adopt can either support or undermine a company’s approach to flexible work.
Companies that want to reap the rewards of flexibility promote inclusive, flex-forward language and discourage non-inclusive language that brings the team down or singles out individual members.
Let’s take a look at the difference:
Much like the linguistic strategies we choose, our workplace behaviours (which aren’t always conscious) can impact how flexible work is viewed within an organisation, be it positively or negatively.
Supportive behaviours are those that champion the company’s flexibility goals, ultimately helping to create a culture where flex becomes an integral part of the workplace.
Here are a few examples:
Good communication is a cornerstone of productive flex work. With increasingly dispersed workforces, we’re relying on technology to facilitate this communication more than ever before.
It can be a double-edged sword. Too much communication, too many potential channels, and messages sent at all times can contribute to an always-on culture.
The antithesis of respectful flex work, being ‘always on’ encroaches on people’s home lives, contributes to burnout, and affects productivity. Little wonder many countries have introduced right-to-disconnect laws.
Poor communication strategies may also lead to the neverending email vortex or constant meetings (and the dreaded Zoom fatigue) that keep people from more pressing tasks.
Being explicit about how you communicate is the best way to avoid these situations, while still using tech to boost productivity and enable synchronous and asynchronous work.
Organisations can have a policy that sets out the hows, wheres, and whens of communication. This policy might include:
Let clients and stakeholders know from the outset that your team works flexibly (use your email signatures to let other people know too) and be transparent about the team’s work patterns.
Flexible work is now considered normal, so there’s little fear that clients or stakeholders will be taken aback or discouraged. In fact, 2021 WEGA data shows that the majority of employers have a formal flexible work policy or strategy in place now.
Clients rarely expect immediate replies to emails anyway, but being open about how and when team members work means that client expectations are realistic. And who knows, you might even inspire other companies to take on the flex mantle too.
We’ve discussed how we talk about and behave towards flex, and how we communicate efficiently in today’s workplaces, but what about when we’re doing the actual work?
High-performing flexible teams have several things in common: they designate time periods for collaboration, hold meetings when necessary (not just for the sake of having a meeting), and have set core hours.
You can think of core hours as somewhat like the meat of each working day. We find core hours tend to be between 10 am and 2 pm, Monday through Friday but every organisation will have different needs based on the nature of their work.
Having set core hours means the opportunity for synchronous work if needed, as well as the opportunity to schedule meetings that are inclusive of all team members. All team meetings, planning, and communications should occur within core hours. It’s also a great time for collaboration.
The benefits of collaboration are well-known: people feel heard and valued, it can spark innovation, lead to better problem-solving and much more. You can have set collaboration times, for example, for workshops or brainstorming sessions, or schedule these well in advance as needed.
Remember to consider colleagues’ different work patterns or schedules and to think about the best ways to collaborate when some people (or the whole team) are working remotely.
We’ve lauded the ability to multi-task for a long time, but research suggests that trying to do too many things at once can actually hinder productivity. Larry Rosen, professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, notes that minimising interruptions is one of the best ways to enhance productivity.
Introduce the concept of focus time and allow people to schedule periods of time when they will work uninterrupted. Team members should respect each other’s focus time and avoid sending IMs or emails during these periods.
There’s a wealth of evidence suggesting that when teams work flexibly, they’re more efficient with their time, for example, 43% of respondents to a Gartner study said flexibility helped them achieve greater productivity.
You don’t want to interfere with this productivity by prioritising meetings that aren’t strictly necessary, or that run for too long. Reducing the time spent in meetings means people have more time for high-value, pressing work.
Consider shortening meetings, reviewing who needs to join and who doesn’t need to be there, and sending a detailed agenda with the objectives clearly outlined beforehand.
Healthy flexible work environments keep the practices we’ve outlined above at the fore. They know that doing flex is more than just talking about it, it’s taking the little steps each day that reinforce and support the company’s flexibility goals.
And once these little steps become habits, teams are well on their way to high-performance flexible work.
Another way to ensure flex is working well for everyone is to choose the right technologies. You want visibility, accountability, and insights into work processes while team members want autonomy and to be trusted with their responsibilities.
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