Organisations are under increasing pressure to improve their flexibility capability. Flexibility can no longer be confined to the working relationship between an employee and their manager, but must become a standard way of working to meet the demands of modern life. Flexible working arrangements help teams and individuals to work productively, be more strongly engaged with their work, and stay longer with the organisation. Implementing flexible working arrangements across teams and organisations presents a variety of challenges that managers and employees will need to negotiate. Teams that are working flexibly still need to operate productively with other teams and departments that are also working flexibly. This requires new and different approaches to management, drawing on individual abilities to connect, enable and collaborate with their teams and other stakeholders in the organisation.
Understand your role as a manager of flexible workers
Managers play a critical role in enabling and embedding workplace flexibility. Key aspects of this role are to:
- ensure employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities around flexible work
- provide employees with support and build a team culture based on high performance, trust and outcomes
- ensure communication and resource management are enabled between teams and departments
- set an example by openly supporting flexibility and working flexibly themselves, which will help employees and teams understand that working flexibly is a normal and accepted part of work.
This toolkit is designed to help managers at all levels implement productive, successful flexible working arrangements. It is intended to be of particular use to managers who directly manage employees working flexibly.
The toolkit outlines strategies that can guide you as you seek to maximise the benefits of flexibility. These strategies can be applied to the implementation of flexible working arrangements across whole teams or for only a few employees.
Flexibility good practice 1: leadership
What is your leadership like now?
- Is the strategic context for your team’s work clearly communicated?
- Do you have a well-developed vision for your team that is known by each team member?
- Are roles clearly allocated within your flexibly working team?
- Have you clearly established your leadership?
- Do you support and model flexibility in your own role?
Good practice strategies
Leadership makes the difference
What leaders say, how they act, what they prioritise and how they measure results all have an impact on effective leadership. Flexibility, by its nature, is more likely to thrive in a collaborative, goal-oriented environment. Managers who can create such an environment are more likely to model successful flexibility in their teams.
Speak positively about flexibility
As the leader of your team, it is important to make strong, consistently positive statements about the benefits and importance of flexibility to achieving the organisation’s goals.
Role model flexibility
Consider adopting a flexible working arrangement yourself. This can be a powerful way of demonstrating successful flexible work, while enhancing your team’s supportive and trust based culture
Show that flexibility is important to you by making it a priority. One of the ways that you can prioritise flexibility is by ensuring that people who work flexibly are included in team activities and continue to receive rewards, training and opportunities for promotion.
Flexibility good practice 2: team culture
What is your team culture like now?
- Do all team members participate and have a sense of belonging?
- Are the organisation’s values modelled and communicated to each flexible worker?
- Are you specifically aware of what you do to create great teamwork?
- Are colleagues supportive of flexible workers or are there issues such as social isolation and communication breakdown?
- Does your team have a trust-based culture?
Good practice strategies
Foster good team dynamics
You may already have a great team dynamic and an excellent working environment, or these may be on your list of ‘things to improve’. Flexibility is often a way to ensure that what is working well continues to be successful, and it can be a very effective way of creating positive change in teams that may be struggling to cope. Consulting with your team members about how you could adjust your traditional or current practices is a good way to start understanding how flexibility might work in your team. This could include changing the ways that social time is organised, how new team members are introduced and how new project teams are formed. For social time and introducing new team members, some teams nominate events when everyone will attend, regardless of their flexibility arrangement. Others make a time to videoconference for a social chat, with no work talk allowed. Social media can also be a very useful platform for building social relationships in virtual teams. When forming new project teams, be aware that people in virtual teams often bond initially over a common vision and mission, i.e. the common tasks they share. People then bond after a period of time over personal characteristics.
Educate your team about flexibility
Ensuring that your team understands the benefits and challenges of flexible work is critical to the success of any flexibility initiative. Encourage input from team members about how they perceive flexibility and what they think would work for them, and consider running focus groups with different levels of the workforce (see the WGEA Focus Group toolkit). Discuss the role of flexibility in achieving business outcomes and address any misperceptions that flexible workers are disinterested, unambitious or poor contributors.
Establish a trust-based culture
Trust is an important aspect of a flexible working arrangement and is based on an expectation that an agreement will be upheld, as well as a belief or confidence in a person’s competence. Trust is also developed around a person’s commitment or good will. Having team members working flexibly can challenge these aspects of trust, so both manager and employee will need to work towards a mutually trusting relationship if flexibility is going to work successfully. Consider running workshops with team members to help them operate effectively in the absence of information, perhaps when you are not contactable or when they need to work autonomously.
Introduce transparent results
A results-based management framework where KPIs, objectives, goals, aims or other results are transparent and clearly described quickly reveals whether a person is meeting their objectives or might need some help. It also helps if roles are clearly established and communicated when new projects commence or when new teams form. Transparent objectives and results are best used as a collaborative mechanism for both managers and employees to work towards the stated goal/s, rather than as a stick to ensure compliant behaviour. There are a number of collaborative work platforms that can help when introducing a results-based management framework.
Allocate work to suit flexibility
Teamwork often involves dynamic, innovative and collaborative work and the manager’s challenge is how to undertake teamwork when members of a team are working flexibly. Improved communication and knowledge management systems, together with great team practices, will not only increase the breadth of work that can be done flexibly but will also enhance your team members’ sense of work satisfaction. At the same time, allocating work that can be done more independently to flexible workers is a good strategy to ensure that the flexible worker’s time is effectively allocated by taking into account the working context.
Create a sense of belonging for all team members
Managers who collaborate well with their teams can help all members feel appropriately included and overcome any feelings of isolation that can ensue from flexible work.
Manage communication across timeframes and locations
Communication – whether it is electronic or in person - is a valuable tool for enhancing team culture. Flexible work can require changes to traditional ways of communicating. It is important to choose the right communication platforms to suit the circumstances. Email is a very useful communication tool and often suffices, but there are times when face-to-face communication will be more effective and productive. This may be particularly important if sensitive or complex discussions are needed. Consider providing communication training to help team members navigate the challenges of communicating effectively when working flexibly.
Make team meetings accessible to all Team meetings when members are working flexibly can take a variety of forms. Sometimes face-to-face meetings may include all team members; at other times, a team may use a variety of telecommunications and videoconferencing technologies to bring people together in the same room. Regardless of the platform, it is important to have clear meeting protocols. This means that each meeting should have a clear purpose and clear roles. The importance of non-verbal communication should also be taken into account when some members are not physically present.
Flexibility good practice 3: active learning
What is your active learning practice like now?
- Do you actively explore new flexibility arrangements to make sure everybody’s needs are taken into account?
- Do some processes or activities in your team involve trial and error or tweaking and adjustment?
- Are you comfortable with establishing temporary solutions, testing their success, and then adjusting as needed?
- Do you use discovery activities to determine whether a flexible working arrangement is achieving its intended goals?
- Do you establish an expectation of open, honest conversations about issues to do with flexible working arrangements?
Good practice strategies
Discuss the active learning approach with your flexible team
The most effective way to establish productive, successful longterm flexible working arrangements is to use a trial-and-error approach. This gives you and your team an opportunity to learn what works in terms of communication tools, remote access, meeting times, results-based management, work allocation, team activities and so on. Discuss the active learning approach with your team and encourage their input.
Set up a trial period
A trial is when you actively test a flexibility arrangement to see how it works for your organisation, yourself, and your team. There is an agreed expectation that the arrangement may change in some way during the trial period. The Fair Work Commission recommends a 3-to-6 month trial period for a new working arrangement. If the new arrangement doesn’t work well initially for either party, use the opportunity to amend the arrangement to be more effective. Once a flexible working arrangement is in place, we recommend it is reviewed regularly, potentially every three months for the first year or so.
Use discovery activities to develop your perspective
Discovery activities enable you and your flexible team to get the information you need to make adjustments that improve the situation. This is best approached through open, honest discussions about flexibility that focus on facts. Refer to your results-management framework and be flexible.
Flexibility good practice 4: resource planning
What is your resource planning like now?
- How well are core business needs being met within your current resources?
- Are your clients and stakeholders being appropriately served?
- Are competing requests and deadlines balanced and resolved?
- Are any of your team members struggling to manage their workload?
- Do you have visibility of who could potentially take on another project?
Good practice strategies
Plan ahead to reduce issues
Planning ahead is a simple but powerful strategy to help ensure resources are allocated in line with people’s availability. Discuss resourcing with your team and develop strategies to deal with potential pitfalls. Planning the resources needed for flexible workers to do their jobs effectively can be quite a complex process and we recommend this is done at the earliest opportunity.
Allocate tasks to suit flexibility
Your process for managing your team’s workload may require some adjustments when many or all team members are working flexibly. Collaborative project management and communication tools can help your flexible workers to be involved in teamwork, if needed. A central project planning tool can also enable each team member to communicate changes to the project.
Manage under-capacity and the risk of work intensification
Be proactive to maintain awareness of your flexible workers’ workloads, to ensure that they are neither overloaded nor underused. If issues arise, it may be that the work within your team can be reallocated or jobs redesigned to better suit flexibility.
Flexibility good practice 5: information flow
What is your information flow like now?
- Are all of your team members able to attend all relevant meetings?
- Are any of your team members complaining of increased stress?
- Does your technology support remote or mobile access for those team members who need it?
- Do you have handover procedures or platforms (e.g. collaborative project management software) in place?
- Is there a smooth flow of information in your team or does a lack of quick access to information result in frequent errors?
Good practice strategies
Establish communication patterns that support flexibility
It can be a good idea to establish communications patterns deliberately, to ensure that information flows freely. By doing so, the patterns of communication that happen in your team can become part of your team’s norms. Here are a few examples of communication patterns that work in some teams:
- projects are updated daily via a collaborative project management software tool or a phone call
- handovers occur weekly via a written update and audio recording
- team meetings occur weekly via face-to-face meeting or videoconference
- sensitive or complex discussions occur ad hoc as needed via face-to-face meeting or high quality videoconference
- out-of-office notifications are handled by an automatic email response and phones are diverted to a team member
- all team members expect that no response is expected for emails received after hours.
Keep all team members updated
When it comes to flexibility, your team members will often need to catch up on developments that occurred while working offsite or for different hours. This may be particularly important for job sharing, compressed working weeks, telecommuting and part-time work arrangements, but could be applicable to every flexible working arrangement to some degree. It is important to ensure that everyone on the team is kept up-to-date.
Use email appropriately
Between face-to-face, videoconferencing, instant messaging and email there is a wide range of communication platforms at our disposal. Text-based communication technologies have their uses, but they are often not appropriate for communication tasks that need rich interaction. Email is usually less efficient and less successful than face-to-face conversations for discussing sensitive, complex or sophisticated topics.
Use collaborative technology tools to improve information flow
Collaborative communication tools and interaction platforms can expand the range of options beyond traditional one-way, textbased technologies. Examples include unified communications platforms, collaborative work rooms, collaborative project management software, wikis and social media platforms. Lastly, videoconferencing can be used to conduct team meetings, have discussions and keep team members up-to-date. Some team members may be less familiar or comfortable with some forms of electronic communication so you will need to consider providing for these team members so they can participate fully. When using any electronic communication option, it is important to ensure that security features are in place to protect remote and mobile access.
Keep cross-departmental channels open
Internal stakeholders can sometimes be an afterthought when it comes to planning and preparing for flexibility in your team. Communicate your team’s availability to your internal stakeholders. Find out how best to keep information flowing smoothly.
Flexibility good practice 6: results-based performance management
What is your results-based performance management like now?
- Does each position in your team have a framework of KPIs, goals, outcomes, objectives or similar that fully covers your expectations of their work?
- Are your expectations about the quality, timing, efficiency and stakeholder impact of the work clearly described and fully understood?
- Do you have a performance management framework that is closely tied to results delivered?
- Do you know without a doubt whether each member of your team is performing as expected in his or her role?
- Do you give your staff members a fair degree of autonomy in how they deliver results?
Good practice strategies
Flexibly working teams often need greater transparency about the work being done across the team, and this can help ensure accountability. Some flexible workers may also need more guidance in the early days to understand the standard of work that needs to be delivered.
Build in autonomy
Flexibility often means that staff members will work more autonomously. Research and experience clearly show that when staff members are given greater autonomy to decide how they achieve work outcomes, they work more productively and are more engaged. Make the most of this by loosening your grip on ‘how’ work outcomes are achieved.
Discuss performance as part of reviewing flexibility arrangements
Your employees need clear, factual feedback about how they’re tracking in relation to their performance objectives. These discussions should focus on objective, observable facts. If you have established a results-based management framework, there will be clear and readily-accessible information about the person’s performance to hand. Your employees will respond more positively if you resist any temptation to make subjective judgements based on your opinion when discussing a team member’s performance. Uphold trust in the relationship by being open to alternative explanations for behaviours you may initially see as negative. When specifically reviewing flexibility arrangements restate your ideal outcome - i.e. arriving at a situation that works as well as possible for everyone – and then discuss any issues. Approach issues with a view to finding a better solution. Manage your team equitably: even if only one or two members of your team work flexibly, manage your whole team using the same approach Remember to reward good performance. Not only does rewarding good performance contribute to stronger results, it also improves morale and staff engagement.
Flexibility good practice 7: self-management
What is your self-management like now?
- Are you flexible and willing to improve and adjust flexible working arrangements in response to feedback?
- Are you aware of whether you need to do additional training to manage flexibility?
- Are you adapting personally to a results-oriented management approach based on trust, letting go, and communicating expectations?
- Are you managing flexibility relatively easily within your existing workload?
- Are you aware of your bias towards or against flexibility?
Good practice strategies
Focus on learning
Focus on developing your knowledge and skills for good flexibility management. Permit yourself some time to learn the skills. Try things out and monitor your success. Change and adapt your management style in response to what works and what doesn’t. Overall, stay flexible and willing to learn.
Become aware of bias
Having a bias about flexibility may limit your opportunities to try it out, or it may render you less likely to see problems with a particular flexibility arrangement. It is good to become aware of your bias so that you can continue to learn, adapt and develop. Keep a regular journal to encourage self-reflection and increase your awareness of how you are adapting to new flexible working arrangements in your team. Encourage team members to do the same.
Ensure you have the resources you need
Use this toolkit to demonstrate the changes you need to make as a manager and the additional time and resources required. Take advantage of any available manager training on flexibility
Flexibility good practice 8: stakeholder management
What is your stakeholder management like now?
- Are your clients and other stakeholders being appropriately managed?
- Do you monitor the impact of your team’s work on your stakeholders?
- Do you minimise the impact of flexibility on your stakeholders?
- Do you work collaboratively with stakeholders, where possible, to resolve issues affecting them?
- Do you support your stakeholders through major transitions?
Good practice strategies
Minimise stakeholder impact
Explain how and why you and the organisation are committed to flexibility. For example, there may be a commitment to become an employer of choice, to attract great staff or to retain skills within your team. Discuss and resolve issues around flexibility that could impact significantly on stakeholders. Remember to keep your internal stakeholders informed and supported, not only your clients. This may include giving teams in work areas near you a clear explanation of why your team has different work patterns, to avoid rumours and confusion.
Clarify the stakeholder benefits
Outline the benefits flexibility can achieve for your stakeholders. For example, they may be more likely to keep dealing with the same person; they could expect greater engagement from contacts within the organisation; there may be potential to contact the team across a wider range of hours and so on.
Recognise that if flexible work results in a disruption to stakeholders’ business needs, it will take a significant shift, learning curve and adaptation on the part of your stakeholders to adjust to new ways of working with your team or flexible worker. Be sure to plan for crisis situations in addition to your business-as-usual stakeholder management.
Flexibility good practice 9: legal risk management
What is your legal risk management like now?
- Are you implementing flexibility with the impact on gender equality in your workplace firmly in mind?
- Are you meeting your obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009?
- Have you followed the requirements and regulations for flexible workers established by your jurisdiction’s work health and safety legislation and your organisation’s work health and safety policy?
- Are you meeting your obligations under the discrimination acts?
- Are you meeting your obligations with regards to the Privacy Act 1988, for example when it comes to security and confidentiality of company and client documents?
- Have you ensured that your flexible workers have followed all relevant policies, to meet the obligations of relevant legislation?
Good practice strategies
Find out your obligations
The first thing to understand about your legal obligations as an employer is that the Fair Work Act 2009 established that some employees have the right to request flexible work. Employees who make a request must receive a written response within 21 days. Read more on the Fair Work Ombudsman site. Managers should note that flexibility may cause other legislation to become relevant in areas such as pay and conditions, equal employment opportunity and other matters. Your obligations under the relevant laws may surprise you. For example, Work Health and Safety legislation may not be the same in your state or territory as in other states and territories. Be sure to find out what your obligations are. You may want to ask your organisation’s human resources area to provide you and your team with an induction in the relevant areas.
Actively review your compliance
Don’t be caught out by changing legal obligations. Instead, make time regularly – perhaps annually - to ensure that your practices are in line with each of the relevant pieces of legislation.
Flexibility good practice 10: change management
What is your change management like now?
- Do you clearly outline the vision of your team after the change, together with the reason why change is necessary?
- Do you actively uncover and constructively combat negative assumptions and attitudes about change?
- Do you ensure that all voices are heard?
- Do you provide support to help change long-held habits and behaviours?
Good practice strategies
Align with your organisation’s change management strategy
Your organisation may be undertaking an organisationwide move to flexibility. This will involve a tailored change management program that may impact your work. Aligning with this strategy may provide you with access to additional resources to support the change. This context can also form part of the vision you establish regarding the reason for change.
Work with your team to help them adjust
Your team may need some help adjusting to flexibility and the changes it may bring to team culture, performance management, resource planning, information flow and so on. To help them, outline a clear vision of how your team will benefit from flexibility. Team members can often see issues that are less visible to managers. Taking note of these issues and trying to address them will help each member of the team to align with the change. Constructively address negative assumptions and attitudes and ensure that all voices are heard. Give time and encouragement to those having difficulty changing long-held habits and behaviours, and overall, work with your team to help them adjust.