Unless you’ve been living under a rock it’s likely you’ve heard the term flexible working. Hell, here’s betting you’ve even experienced it.
However, similarly to NFTs, when it comes to flexible working, nobody can quite put into words what it is, better yet, how on earth teams and organisations can use it to their advantage.
Flexible work, hybrid work, remote work. Whichever way you swing it they all mean essentially the same thing: a mutual agreement between employer and employee, allowing the individual to vary the amount, timing or location of their work.
And before you blow it off as just another fad, let us tell you why it’s here to stay!
Almost 70% of Aussies who have been working from home since the start of the pandemic would like to continue doing so.
And now you might be asking, why after being locked in our houses for two years do people want to stay at home and work odd hours? Well…
43% of respondents said that flexibility in working hours helped them achieve greater productivity (Gartner, 2021)
89% of companies report better retention rates because of their flexible work options. (CompareCamp, 2020)
80% of participants believed more work flexibility would help them take better care of their mental health (Forbes, 2020)
The benefits of flexible working are undeniable, however, as a leader, we can understand that you still might be hesitant to take the leap of faith.
No doubt, this is a change you need to ease into and there are many things to unpack. So, before you get stuck down a Google wormhole let us help you get started with these four simple steps.
Step #1: Set Your Flexible Working Schedule
The first and arguably most important step in preparing for flexible working is having a set schedule.
And yes, you’re probably thinking WTF isn’t ‘setting a schedule’ the complete opposite of ‘being flexible? …let us explain!
Having a shared weekly calendar of all internal and external meetings, collaborative sessions and staff check-ins is what allows us to identify times and days which have the capacity to be flexible.
Flexible working is not letting your staff run free with the fairies. It’s about carving out a schedule that works best for your team. When staff know exactly when they need to be online/in the office, they can plan their flexible working week and find their flow.
For example, for us Monday is our ‘meetings day’. We will meet for our morning study session, followed by the weekly work in progress (WIP) debrief, sales meeting and every couple of months, a leadership meeting.
Furthermore, throughout the week we have set times for 90-day project check-ins and our managers make time on Friday for dedicated end of week (EoW) debriefs with their peeps.
Some may argue that meetings are the enemy of flexible working but we say it’s the secret to staying connected and collaborative throughout the week. Plus, no longer are we worried about how a school pick-up or a doctor appointment will impact collaboration. Stick to the schedule and we don’t even notice it!
How to set your flexible working schedule
Take steps now to introduce a flexible working structure by pencilling in a leadership meeting to identify crucial days and times you need staff to be online.
From here, create purposeful meeting slots for staff check-ins, feedback delivery and strategic project collaboration.
Bonus! With a clear schedule in front of you, we’d recommend pencilling in ‘focus time’ where you can do strategic work uninterrupted!
Remember to check in with your schedule in your Monday morning WIPs and adapt it as your team and projects change. Your schedule should never be set in stone!
Step #2 Aligning the Team to Your Vision
Alright! You’ve got your schedule now it’s time to talk about what you will achieve within your collaborative time.
For flexible working to be effective your employees need to have the ability to work independently. And for your employees to work independently, they need a bird’s eye view, or a vision, of the projects they are involved in.
And this is how you do it! Sit down with your leadership team to decide upon your 1-3-5 vision.
Five years is the overall vision for the future of your company.
For example, become Australia’s #1 Men’s Clothing retailer.
Three years being the hefty projects and decisions that will get you there – think new product lines, international expansion or strategy switches.
For example, offer a hyper-personalised shopping experience with automation, segmentation, personalised recommendations and strong first-party data.
And one year is the building blocks that will get you there. Your 90-day goals, or OKRs as we call them at MI Academy.
For example, audit and analyse our customer data to launch a new, hyper-personalised welcome series.
Like your schedule, this vision is not set in stone. Yet it provides a blueprint for your team to understand what they are working on, and more importantly, why it is important to the future of your business.
When your team is aligned toward a vision they can work autonomously. Moving out of the cycle of to-do-list reactivity, to start driving things strategically.
How to set your 1-3-5 vision
Where do you envision your business in 5 years’ time? Don’t be afraid to dream big!
Now work backwards. Where would you realistically need to be in 3 years to hit this target? And now, what do you need to achieve in the next year to get you there?
When you get down to one year it’s important to get granular. This is vision is what you will be deriving your 90-day goals from.
Step #3 Define Your Team Structure
Cool! So now we’ve got everybody working towards the same thing. HOWEVER, you shouldn’t confuse working TOWARDS the same thing as working ON the same thing.
You should think of your flexible working team as a village. In a successful village colony, throughout the day people have their respective jobs. Someone may be out chopping wood, another off picking strawberries (admittedly this was a weird analogy to use 😂)
Anyway! Basically, it’s extremely rare for a project to need the whole team’s attention at the same time. And for your village to work, people need to understand their ‘job’. They need to be able to step into the office or log in and understand their responsibilities, who to report to and who to go to for assistance.
When you define your overall organisational and project team structure this will come as second nature!
However, without a clearly defined organisational structure and strong leadership, flexible working is borderline impossible. Employees will be pinging their manager every 5 minutes and nothing will get done without the delegation of each and every minuscule task.
How to define your team structure
For business as usual work, an employee must understandwho…
they can go to for feedback and questions
will be briefing their work
will be approving their work
For strategic (OKR) work, employees must understand who is the…
Project sponsor – responsible for overseeing the entire project, providing validation and signing it off as done.
Team leader – manages and delegates the tasks, ensuring initiatives are being completed.
Team Members – fellow employees that work on their assigned tasks to meet objectives.
Pretty please ensure you document this structure. We promise it will make your work life ions easier!
Step #4 – Identify Your Skills Gaps
Now comes the real test! What happens when one of those project members is sick, on leave or at max capacity?
Back to my village analogy. Having a set structure is all well and good until villager one cuts off their finger with an axe (pray not!) or villager two gets stung by a bee in the strawberry patch. This will be the ultimate test of flexible working!
Reducing reliance on specific employee skillsets is the key to safeguarding your flexible working structure. How do we do it, you ask? We upskill across the board!
As your vision and cross-functional project teams become more defined you will naturally begin noticing skills gaps in your employees – and this is ok. In fact, this is a great opportunity for learning and development!
How to identify skills gaps
For every project or business as usual task, work to identify the top 5 skills required to get the job done. For example, email marketing requires:
Insights & data
Product / service knowledge
Now ask your team to rank their confidence with these skills out of 10. If you have clear outliers in the upper range of confidence/competence, that project is at a high risk of being derailed.
You should work towards having AT LEAST a couple of employees who rank themselves in the range of 8-10.
But there’s also another possible solution to this conundrum!
Shulf is an AI algorithm that has the ability to evaluate employees’ workload and detect burnout in its early stages.
Its tagline “Swap out, Burn out” references the solution’s ability to cross-reference the skills of employees and identify specific people within the company that have the potential to ‘fill in the gap’.
The winning solution takes into account the risk of burnout and encourages teams and organisations to share the load and close the skills gap.
Shufl is an AI version of an exercise we run called ‘identifying the gaps’ that is designed to identify and remedy skills gaps before they become an issue.
In a nutshell, if you operate cross-functionally, fill in your skill gaps and provide your workers with the ability to lighten their workload, flexible working will be much more achievable!
Alright now, hopefully, you have what you need to create or optimise a flexible working structure in your team or organisation.
Our final piece of advice is to take it slow and not to try implement all of the steps at once. Changing habits takes time!
If you need help developing some rituals for flexible working, or setting your all-important 1-3-5 vision, we highly recommend you suss out our Team Alignment training accelerators.
Alita Harvey-Rodriguez is known as one of Australia's leading digital marketing futurists and the brains behind Milk It Academy – A research-based training firm to advance marketers skills into new school digital leaders and company innovators. For over a decade Alita has worked with global brands including SAP, Experian, SEMrush, TS14+, Estee Lauder, Myer, Power Retail, & Online Retailer.