Over the past year, working has changed for businesses across the world. With flexible and home-based roles rapidly becoming the norm, workplace culture has reached unchartered territory. As leaders, we constantly strive to be the best we can for our teams. This often means learning how to adapt to difficult situations while making sure we find an outcome that keeps all parties satisfied.
In my experience, flexible working has been met with open arms. My employees are eager to fit their professional commitments around their personal lives in a way that works for them. But the success of any work from home strategy depends upon its architect, so it’s vital to think about the ways that work from home can be shaped to benefit both your team and your business.
The Freedom to Choose
First and foremost, I’ve found that giving employees the power of choice is the true foundation of flexible working. When the time is right, members of the team who would prefer to work in the office will be able to do so, while those who work best at home will be allowed to remain there indefinitely. Implementing a blanket rule for all employees will never offer true flexibility. I trust my employees to find the right working balance for themselves and so far, neither productivity nor morale has suffered.
Flexible working shouldn’t just apply to location either. When working from home, I give my employees the freedom to attend appointments or pick their children up from school when they need to. This has the potential to lower stress and contributes to a flexible culture of trust. Keeping your team firmly seated at their desk throughout the entire day can actually have a counter-productive effect on output and attitude. I find that offering employees the chance to take a walk and clear their head helps them to perform better and feel more positive.
Communication is Key
When working predominantly from home, it’s important to remember to keep in touch. Even if your employees work efficiently when left to their own devices, you should check in regularly to let your team know you’re there for them. An absent leader isn’t an inspiring leader, which is why I still call into meetings to support my team in any way I can. Being present also helps you to create a workplace culture built on openness and collaboration, which is essential in any remote or in-person office.
While being present in day-to-day meetings reminds your team that you’re there to help, make sure you’re having dedicated check-ins with employees too. This could take the form of a one-on-one video call or simply be a monthly review with smaller groups. Having a meeting that’s designed for giving feedback can make employees more likely to contribute honestly without feeling like they’re wasting time.
Take a Step Back
I also recognise the importance of giving my team the space they need to do their jobs well. There’s a clear difference between making sure your employees know you’re there for them and watching their every move. Some leaders may be tempted to toe the line between effective leadership and micro-management when employees feel out of reach. But control isn’t the answer. As long as everyone is well-informed about remote working practices and new processes, you should feel confident enough to take a step back. Trust your team to deliver the results you know they’re capable of and everything will fall into place.
While recent restrictions have made socialising a challenge for everyone, encouraging your team to chat with one another outside of work hours can boost morale. Whether it’s a virtual quiz or a video call with some drinks, I think it’s important for my team to feel like they know each other outside of the workplace. If your employees are spread far and wide, video calls can pave the way for future socialisation, but teams who live locally can consider in-person get-togethers when the time is right.
But it’s not just social events that can build a sense of belonging. After the weekend, I make sure I ask my team how it went to develop those more personal connections. While it’s not always possible or practical to build small-talk into meetings, make sure you’re seizing the chances you have to make your employees feel valued not just as workers, but as people too.