Concerned About Flex Work?
By Madison Hanscom, Ph.D.
There is evidence to suggest that Flex Work can be a very successful model. Whether working entirely remote from home or in a flex arrangement between the office and home, this can have positive implications for the bottom line (see: The Financial Benefits of Having a Flex Work Environment) and for the individual.
Although the Flex Work model has great results when done correctly, there are still some common concerns about remote/virtual work. Below you will find some of these concerns and possible solutions for tacking these challenges.
Leader Concern: “I can’t possibly know what my employees are doing when they are working from home. I can’t monitor them.”
• Solution: Embrace it! Reconsider the mentality that you need someone to be in the office, under your eye for a certain amount of time each day to get their work done. It is likely they are not working the whole time anyway. Instead of worrying about how or when they are working, try setting goals with them to guide what they will accomplish and track their performance outcomes or deliverables accordingly. People thrive when they have autonomy, and research shows your employees will likely be happier and more productive if you give up a tight leash (1). Ensure goals are being met (and avoid employee overload or underload) by scheduling check-in meetings at a frequency that makes sense for your team.
Leader Concern: “I’m afraid there will be a lack of real time communication and collaboration in a flex working environment.”
• Solution: Revisit your team’s accessibility norms. If you were previously accustomed to the idea that you can reach anyone by taking a short walk in the office to ask questions, it will be important to recreate that culture in a remote capacity. Collaboration tools make this easier than ever. Encourage everyone to download and use the same communication app for this purpose. Some work teams enjoy using text messages or iMessage for this purpose. Let everyone know that sending messages should be similar to how things were in the face-to-face office (e.g., a quick “ping” is the same as someone popping by your office for a quick chat). Check your messages often and send messages often. Also, try to remove any sense of formality around communication. Make it easy and psychologically safe for your subordinates to reach out to you (and each other) for quick questions. And always remember - tools fail! Be sure to come up with internal Band-Aids for when something goes wrong with a collaboration tool (e.g., during a video conference if a team member has a sudden WIFI disconnection, ensure there is an alternative phone line in which they can call in that does not require a WIFI signal).
Leader Concern: “What about the culture?”
• Solution: Consider how your company’s culture can complement flexible work, and how flexible work can complement your culture. For instance, is it a cultural norm in your company to have strong social connections at work? This does not have to change in a virtual setting! Hold regular team meetings using a video conference to keep that same engagement. At Propulo we like to have “themed” video meetings (e.g., hat day). Also consider in-person meetings whenever possible (even if only once a year) to maintain strong connections and reinforce cultural norms. If the only interaction is email and conference calls, there will likely be a need to connect more often to build and sustain the culture you desire.
Employee Concern: “I am going to miss out on important connections with my supervisors, and potentially miss out on promotions because I’m out of sight / out of mind.”
• Solution: Connect in a different way. We can no longer rely on run-ins at the water cooler or stopping by a supervisor’s office. It will now be important to create time to interact with those you work with in a more structured way. Try asking your supervisor for one-on-one meetings scheduled at a pace that works for them. Do they only have 10 minutes every other week? No problem. Let them know their connection is important to you and get it on the books. During this time you might discuss goals, progress, and any ‘stucks’. These conversations will help you stay in their mind. Another idea to create deeper connections is to turn some standard phone meetings into video meetings. If your supervisor is not accustomed to seeing your face often, this can help to keep the familiarity stronger. Keep doing good work and meeting your goals - it will be recognized!
Employee Concern: “I will feel too lonely and isolated working from home.”
• Solution: Make time for social interaction before, during, or after the workday. It is unlikely the leadership in your company is thinking about loneliness, so it is important to be proactive and explore ways to integrate some social interaction into your day. Is it easier for a family member to have a quick phone conversation before work while you have coffee? Can you turn one of your work calls into a video call to feel more connected to a coworker? Can you schedule virtual happy hours with coworkers who do not live within driving distance? Can you schedule dinner with a friend? Consider all the ways you can build connections with friends, family, and coworkers in this regard. Also try taking your work to a coffee shop for a couple of hours or joining a coworking space if that helps to brighten your day by getting out of the house.
Employee Concern: “I have too many distractions at home.”
• Solution: Think about what you did in the office environment. There are arguably just as many distractions in the office as there are at home — these distractions are just different. What did you do to effectively manage distractions at the office? This might have included wearing noise cancelling headphones, installing website blocking apps, and leaving your phone in the car. Now, consider how some of these strategies might translate to your home office. For example, you can wear the noise cancelling headphones to tune out your noisy neighbors instead of your noisy coworkers. There might be new strategies to consider as well for remote work. A helpful tip is to track your time. You might find it insightful to see how much time you spend on different tasks - including walks to the fridge! Also try acting like you’re going to work by changing clothes before the workday begins and relocating to a designated workspace in your home. This will help you psychologically prepare for productivity. Finally, the most obvious one, is to remove distractions. If you have a personal phone you cannot resist checking, leave it in the other room.
• Don’t forget that getting distracted on occasion is normal. Taking a reasonable amount of breaks can be useful. Research shows that taking breaks can help us to recover - coming back more focused and engaged (2). If you’re getting pulled away by distractions, you might need to give in and make that snack so you can come back in a few minutes with a new purpose.
At Propulo Consulting, we partner with you to improve the world of work. Our team has the expertise to help your business plan and implement a sensible Flex Work strategy without pain. We work with you to ensure your company culture and processes develop accordingly during or after a Flex Work transition so you can continue to deliver results for your organization and customers. Please visit our website for the latest insights and research into flexible work.
(1) Humphrey, S. E., Nahrgang, J. D., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). Integrating motivational, social, and contextual work design features: a meta-analytic summary and theoretical extension of the work design literature. Journal of applied psychology, 92(5), 1332.
(2) Kühnel, J., Zacher, H., De Bloom, J., & Bledow, R. (2017). Take a break! Benefits of sleep and short breaks for daily work engagement. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26(4), 481-491.