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Reward Considerations for Business Crisis #3: Workplace Flexibility

28 April, 2020

Vision is an indispensable part of supervision, right? To supervise, you must have your workers within eyesight. So says conventional management. I think it’s time to retire the term supervision, and replace it with management which is the essence of planning, controlling, directing, measuring and rewarding work. While prisoners working on a chain gang fixing highway ditches require close supervision (so they don’t try to run away), there are few remaining occupations where work must be physically supervised, or “overseen” as the word means.

Everything they say about the future of work is being accelerated by COVID-19. Not just working from home and Zoom calls. We will see greater use of contingent and fixed-term contract workers, who can be laid off simply by not renewing their contracts. We will see greater use of robots and kiosks especially in traditionally close-contact occupations such as coffee shops and fast food. But we will also see a human element we have not seen before, an awareness of the need for connection when physical distancing is needed. This human connectedness both requires and builds trust.

Trust and human connection will be the non-tech element of the future of work.

In 2016, I created a Flexible Work Arrangements course in collaboration with Singapore National Employers Federation and Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower. I am an MOM-approved Work-Life trainer. My manager training objectives were adopted as the national standard. So let me suggest to you some very practical suggestions for your company’s COVID and post-COVID policies and practices for workplace flexibility.

  1. State the company’s philosophy, for example:

    At ABC company, we believe people should be accountable for delivering their best work every day, regardless of where or when they perform their job tasks. The outcomes matter more than the number of hours worked, except of course for those eligible for overtime pay, whose time must be paid fully for hours worked.

    We believe people want to be trusted and treated as adults, and want to show they can deliver great work when given the freedom to work at home or during alternate work hours. Some departments, locations or function may require people to be onsite and work specified hours, due to customer considerations or other valid business reasons. And we also believe in building relationships with one another helps build trust, teamwork, and a sense of commitment. We seek to find the right balance as an organisation where we have sufficient human connection and presence “at work” while at the same time, allowing as much flexibility as we reasonably can, following a few basic guidelines and procedures..
    .
  2. Train managers. They must be able to (and yes, these are the manager learning objectives I referred to earlier):
  1. Describe common flexible work arrangements, their features, and reasons for using them
  2. Assess which types of flexible work arrangements may benefit their department or business unit internally
  3. Evaluate external/customer impact of implementing a flexible work arrangement
  4. Establish rules or guidelines for reviewing and approving requests for flexible work arrangements in their department or unit
  5. Maximise productivity, performance and teamwork for flexible work arrangements
  6. Improve, modify or end a flexible work arrangement that is not working
  7. Communicate effectively with employees and customers regarding flexible work arrangements
  1. Track and approve FWAs like you track and approve leaves. Use your leave management process for flexible work arrangements, so you know who is on what arrangement, what manager approved it, when it was approved, and when it expires. The expiration date is very important, otherwise, you will have people kicking and screaming when you tell them they need to start coming into the office. I once had two employees who each had asked me to take a work from home day for some personal reason. I said sure, that’s fine. One of them took a Monday off, the other took a Friday off. Two months later I was relocated to Singapore. I got a call from my boss a few months later when I had been back-filled. Apparently these two people told their new boss that I had approved Monday (and Friday for the other person) as “their” work at home day. Like it was a permanent endowment, set up as a perpetual trust for them and their children and their children’s children.. Good gosh. People get possessive about flexible work arrangements! Approve FWAs for 3 months maximum, after which time the manager can renew it, or end it, to ensure there is enough office presence, or because someone else has a need for it, or simply wants their turn, due to the manager’s need to have x% of staff in the office every day.
  1. Give managers a FWA Planning Worksheet. List the job titles down the left (not people, but only the job titles in the department.) For each job, you have several columns for FWA policy setting. Column 2 – list a possible FWA, such as flexible scheduling. Column 3 – what are the department’s needs in terms of scheduling. If there is no fixed scheduling requirement for the department, and it doesn’t matter when people work, then say “n.a.” If you need minimum 50% staff in the workplace from 9 til 6, then say so. Column 4 – Risks.. what business or customer or supplier risks might there be if people worked alternate schedules? Missed phone calls? No one free to handle someone who physically walks over for help? Note these risks. Column 5 – Risk Mitigation.. how you will handle the risks. For example, set up a hotline for people to call instead of physically walking to the department expecting someone to assist them on the spot. Do this for every job, and for every type of FWA that could be considered for each job.
  2. Revise regularly. As our organisations evolve from crisis-mode to recovery and to some kind of new normal, we should revisit all the above periodically and adjust. Do this every 3-6 months until we are back to normal. Assign business leaders to a workplace flexibility council, and have HR facilitate. Involve internal audit–you’d be surprised how valuable their inputs are on this topic!

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