At ConvergenceCoaching, we’re huge proponents of flexible work programs, or what we like to call Anytime, Anywhere Work™ programs. We’ve been operating in a flexible, virtual environment ourselves for almost 18 years and the strategies we use to keep our team connected and operating efficiently are the same ones we teach to our clients. Philosophically, our flexible environment means that I am empowered to make choices about how to better fit work into my life, and in the process, become a more fulfilled, well-rounded team member. Assuming I’m full-time, I produce a comparable amount to my peers but possibly at different times of day or in different places than they do. If I’m producing on-time deliverables, satisfied clients and dedicating the necessary time to relationships with my co-workers, the details of where or when I get that work done shouldn’t matter. Ultimately, flexibility gives us the chance to feel successful at home and at work, a lofty goal that we should all strive for.
In firms, I worry that sometimes the flex conversation centers around moms and dads and might feel like a benefit just for them. If we’re aiming to create happier team members, we should apply the principle equally to all, not just to those with children. For example, an employee might need time during the day to help his dad manage a few doctor’s appointments, while another has to be out midday to attend a financial planning appointment with her elderly neighbor. Another team member might want to attend her church singles group meetings on Tuesday evenings during busy season, meaning she needs to leave right at 5 p.m. on those days. There might be an avid skier on our team who wants to be on the mountain for Saturday morning events with his Ski Club and as a result, he makes up the extra production needed during busy season on Sunday afternoons. I could list an endless number of examples of how our team members benefit by being able to schedule their work around passions and responsibilities.
How can you shift perspectives and get buy-in so that you are honoring all the unique ways your team wants to flex? Here are five strategies to help you get started:
Highlight the differences. When we teach people development skills, we first shift participants’ mindset by talking about all the differences that exist in our teams. We focus on communication style differences, data-gathering approaches, decision-making behaviors, organizational strategies, along with generational and gender attributes. The goal is to help leaders recognize that their approach isn’t always the “right” way, or the only way, but instead one possible way. Recognizing these differences helps us be more compassionate leaders of our teams. We recommend that you talk about differences in your teams and their need for flexibility, creating more openness and understanding for each other’s use of flexible work programs.
Be transparent with flex usage. Instead of marking your calendar as “out of office,” leaving the team to guess whether the appointment is client-related or personal, clearly distinguish the purpose of the meeting on the calendar. An appointment with a client would be labeled as such, while a hair appointment in the middle of the day would be marked “personal time” – or if you’re super-transparent, as a hair appointment. Leaders should strive to get more comfortable saying “I’m stepping out for a haircut and will be back at 2 pm. Can we talk about Client ABC’s financials once I’m back?” The shift to transparent use of flexibility will earn big returns for your firm and empower your team to take advantage of flexibility, too.
Pay attention to your success stories. Historically we’ve lauded the workhorse – the person who turns on the lights in the morning and is the last person out of the parking lot at night. If we’re honest though, that person isn’t always the highest performing member of the team and their car being in the parking lot doesn’t necessarily assure they are making the biggest contributions. Are we measuring the right activities – things like client satisfaction, team-building and people development skills, or business development outcomes, for instance – when we brag about the workhorse? I would argue that instead, we’re measuring and valuing effort but not results, when results are what really matter. Look for opportunities to highlight specific and meaningful results-based successes – a new client landed, a new project for an existing client, a kudos from a client, a new system for managing individual return scheduling – rather than rewarding or repeating workhorse war stories.
Consider your success metrics. Human beings naturally make comparisons and are competitive over things like salary, selection for projects and promotion opportunities. When some team members are working under a flexible work program while others aren’t, it can lead to questions about who is contributing more or working harder, especially when we lack clarity around what success looks like. Be sure that each team member understands and is held accountable to a minimum standard of work and performance along with a few measurable stretch goals. This clarity will help to shift the conversation from competition with each other to individuals striving towards a known, high standard and personal set of outcomes. Be sure to reward performance that achieves that high bar; additionally, when team members consistently miss the mark, be sure to actively manage them up or out of the organization.
Regularly communicate the value of Anytime, Anywhere Work at all levels. Given the competitive nature of work relationships, take the time to help your team understand the value proposition of your flexible work programs. Find opportunities – team email communications, state of the firm events, departmental and team meetings, and individual interactions – to consistently remind team members of the value the firm places on flexibility. Ask for the team’s understanding, compassion and support for each other, and reward and highlight those supportive behaviors when you see them. Additionally, offer to discuss any feelings of frustration or competition and strive for a community of abundance (enough for us all to be successful) vs. scarcity (fighting over the scraps). We like to say that you must manage the message or the message will manage you, so look for opportunities to shift your firm’s ongoing messages about flex.
To close, I’d recommend that you get centered on your firm’s goal for offering flexible work programs. I believe it’s having an empowered, satisfied team that works steadily under clear expectations employing shared values and a flexible approach. If so, these five strategies can help you get there. Which strategy will you pick to get started today?
About the Author
Renee is a consultant with Convergence Coaching, LLC, a national leadership and marketing consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders achieve success by working with them to develop and implement leadership, succession, human resources, and training and development plans.