Flexible working – it’s good for business. So why the apprehension SME NZ?

Author Kerryn Strong
12/06/18

Flexible working – it’s good for business. So why the apprehension SME NZ?

[Business Owner internal dialogue subsequent to reading several pro-flexible working news articles]

“Ok, so my ‘staff’ aren’t numbers or robots.  They’re humans, with families and lives to live outside of these office walls.  Got it.  Let’s do this flexible working thing!  Why shouldn’t they work from home, or take some time back when they’ve worked some longer days? Why can’t they start and finish work when it suits them?  Or work part time even?  Right, no more 9-5 around here.”

The Flexible Working Revolution

Success!  Another New Zealand Business Owner joins the flexible working revolution (albeit at a much slower pace than our offsiders in the UK/US).  Step one, create a set of flexible working policies.  Step two, communicate them with the team.  And, done!

But like any revolution, it’s not without its challenges, and arguably SME NZ is grappling with more issues than most.

[Business Owner internal dialogue 24 hours subsequent to epiphany re employing humans rather than robots]

“Oh but wait, Julie can’t work from home… ever… who else will open / close the office and greet all the visitors. Ok, policy amendment – only ‘back office roles’.  And Maria, well, clearly I need to keep an eye on her – I have no idea what she’s doing all day at the best of times. Can’t have her ‘leaving early’ or ‘working’ from home.  Actually… how will I know if anyone is doing an honest day’s work aside from Superstar Steve?  And if one person sees another person working flexi hours, but the same rules don’t apply to them – then what?  And as for part time hours.  Minefield.  Wow, total minefield….”

The Benefits

It’s widely accepted that flexible working is the way forward – there is a compelling case for the benefits and flexible working is increasingly widespread; existing in many forms and being carefully tailored to suit each and every environment.  But are flexible working policies gaining traction in small business NZ? And if not, why not?

A Struggle for SMEs

For all our agility and innovation within SME NZ, making all the ‘hows’ of implementing flexible working policies possible, we are still constantly grappling with the day-to-day reality and impracticality of these policies.  We have the good intentions and the right attitude.  Check.  We have the ability to make decisions swiftly that can make powerful impacts for the better.  Check.  We have access to the right technology to – in theory – make the very concept of ‘the office’ superfluous.  Check.

And yet, every day in the Consulting World, we see there is genuine apprehension when it comes to granting flexible working arrangements from a ‘management of the humans’ perspective.

It’s as if we’re hearing the long list of benefits [empowered, engaged people with increased well-being due to lessened commutes or more time with family; reduced office space; amazing company attraction and retention strategies… and the list goes on], and we’re nodding, ‘yes’, ‘yes’, ‘mmm hmm’ and ‘let’s do this!’.

But we’re stumbling in our execution.  Why?

The Fear Factor

This could come down to fear / lack of confidence when it comes to managing flexible working arrangements with individuals in the team.  Worries about the perception of ‘fairness’ of certain arrangements, what sort of flexibility could be offered to someone who might not be performing to expectation, worries about the potential lack of collaboration that may result when a portion of the workforce is working off-site and also fears that outputs won’t be as easily monitored.

The latter point challenging many managers at their core:  are you as a people manager judging your peoples’ performance on their presence at work between certain times?  Or are you more effectively able to quantify work outputs?

So what’s the solution?

Lifting of people management skills training across the SME board – so many of the concerns that are holding businesses back from effectively embedding a flexible working culture could be eradicated with coaching and upskilling business owners and managers as to how to best deal with the company-wide communication of these policies, as well as how to best deal with flexible working arrangements at an individual level in order to achieve the most benefit for employees and the business.

And what’s wrong with a bit of try before you buy?  Perhaps try out one or two ideas with the team – consult with people one-on-one and find out what kinds of flexibility would really ‘float their boat’ – no doubt you’ll come away with several different perspectives and some, polar opposite.  Travelling to work outside of peak hour traffic will be life changing for one person, whereas working a day at home a week will be better for another.

The key to good execution of flexible working arrangements?  It’s not one-size-fits-all, so write your policies with this in mind and when offering various arrangements to your team members.  Feel free to get in touch with one of our team about how to go about introducing flexible working policies into your workplace.

Keen to read more like this?  Check out these related articles from the POD blog.

Become a family-friendly manager

Keep your best employees

Employee engagement

The four most highly-recommended ways to get your peoples’ feedback

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