Career Skills Development: Flexibility in a Traditional Workplace
By Janeen Blanton, PMP, SA, CSM, CSPO, AIS, AIT, Vice President, Insurance Productivity Services & Commercial Operations

The desire for flexibility has been touted as a millennial issue, but it really isn’t.  There are many in the current workforce who desire flexible hours and work locations for a variety of reasons – aging parents, busy families, or simply to balance work and life in general.  Regardless of the reason, what may have once been considered a perk is quickly evolving into a deciding factor in job searches and employee retention.  In fact, some employees consider flexibility to be a bigger consideration than compensation.

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This issue also doesn’t relate to only staff level employees. Employees at all levels are looking to and can successfully work from home.  I run all the commercial operations for my company, and I generally work from home a couple days per week.  I do this for two reasons. One, on days when my kids have multiple activities, I can actually put in more work hours if I don’t commute. And two, sometimes these are the only days I can escape my revolving door and ringing phone to get things done.  It works well for me.  It works well for my boss, the President of our company. Yes, he works from home one day a week – for many of the same reasons. 

Technology has become a huge enabler, literally allowing people to work anytime, anywhere.  Computing devices keep getting smaller and more mobile, and connectivity is available nearly everywhere.  Tools like Skype and Facetime even allow you to have a face to face conversation without being in the same room, state or country.

So how do we make this work in our traditional workplaces?  How do we change the minds of people who assume that if they don’t see you working, you aren’t?   The key is accountability.  You simply can’t have flexibility without it.  I trust my team.  If I didn’t trust them, they wouldn’t be working for me. But, they know that if they want to work from home or work flexible hours, they have to be proactive in communicating their schedule – more proactive than they would have to be when working standard hours in the office. For example, I don’t mind if an employee working at home wants to take a break in the afternoon to do something with their child and make up the hours before or after, but they need to tell me ahead of time. If I call expecting them to be working, and hear that they’re in the mall or at a ball game, I’m not going to be happy about it. 

Another key to making flexibility work is monitoring productivity. I know what kind of output my team is capable of when they’re working effectively and efficiently. Honestly, I don’t care what time or where the work gets done as long as it keeps getting done at that pace and with that quality.  If either of those two things start to slide, I know there is a problem – and a conversation to be had. If that conversation doesn’t resolve the issue, then that person loses their flexibility options.

That leads me to the third key, a clear understanding of expectations.  Whether it’s a term of their employment or something an employee requests later, they need to know exactly what flexibility means and what is expected of them to keep those arrangements.  What core hours must they work and what are flexible? What office hours must they keep and what are flexible?  What are the criteria for maintaining flexible hours/worksite? And what are the disciplinary steps taken when those criteria are not met?  These are all questions that need to be answered and documented so that everyone is on the same page from the outset.

We can no longer afford to ignore the flexibility factor if we want to hire and retain top level talent. We also need to understand that everyone’s picture of the perfect work arrangement is different and not let our flexibility plan become inflexible.  Establish clear expectations – including productivity and accountability – and then work with individuals to find a balance that works for both of you.  When you extend this trust you will see more than improved job satisfaction.  More often than not, you will see employees’ initiative and dedication shine through.

 

Submitted by Janeen Blanton, PMP, SA, CSM, CSPO, AIS, AIT, Vice President, Insurance Productivity Services & Commercial Operation and volunteer member of IASA Career Skills Development Committee 

janeen.blanton@salientcommercial.com