Several press articles over the past few months have highlighted the potential for increased flexible working arrangements for employees impacted by the upcoming London 2012 Olympics. Politicians, local and national, have suggested that employers should give additional flexibility to their employees who commute in and out of London.
Unfortunately, this isn’t based on anything more scientific than the realisation that London’s public transport network will be under considerable strain due to the thousands of visitors expected to arrive for the Olympics.
However, despite the less than ideal motivation, the reasoning is sound. For those employees who don’t necessarily need to be in an office or other fixed place of work to be effective, next summer’s Olympic games provides their organisation with the idea opportunity to experiment with flexible working arrangements. This could involve changes as modest as staggered start and finishing times or part-time working from home.
These changes will take some organisation and a level of trust between employers and employees. But the investment can be worthwhile.
So, how to make it work for both parties?
1 – Set boundaries: to ensure trust is maintained between a manager and her team who are working with increased flexibility, clarity of what is acceptable is key. Managers can contract with their direct reports at the outset of temporary working arrangements to clearly set out what is in – and out – of the agreement. If a business introduces staggered start and finish times, to avoid everyone trying to battle through the traffic at the same time, employees need absolutes in terms of what these new times can be. Agreeing the “rules of the road” up front can do a lot to avoid friction or upset later on.
2 – Maintain appropriate contact: for those employees experimenting with home-working, ensure that they remain in contact with colleagues via phone and email. It may be an idea to schedule catch-up calls, especially for those employees who have never worked from home before and who may actually miss the social contact that the workplace brings. This can also give managers a level of comfort that employees, while out of sight, are still working. Scheduling calls can also help avoid any tendency towards micro-management in managers. These can be used to check progress made and offer clarification and support.
3 – Ensure employee have the tools for the job: employees in the “knowledge economy” can pretty much get most things done with a mobile phone and a laptop. If they’re not used to working remotely, an employer needs to ensure they have the appropriate equipment so they are not disadvantaged compared to their office-based colleagues and their ability to get the job done isn’t hampered by having to use their old home PC. Liaison with your IT professionals is essential here.
4 – Pilot flexibility: despite what advertisers would have us believe, there’s quite some time before the London Olympics actually begin. Organisations should use the time between now and then to trial additional flexibility, evaluate the outcomes and then amend your policies as a result of feedback from all parties. This will assist with a much smoother experience for managers and employees during the summer of 2012.
The ultimate positive outcome from next summer would be for organisations to see real benefits in flexible working arrangements and to increase the amount of flexibility afforded to employees as a result of experimenting during the Olympics. In order to to this effectively, they need to base their decisions on data. So, evaluation is key.
Productivity, employee satisfaction and costs can all be reviewed in the light of such flexible working arrangements. Let’s see how many organisations engage with this opportunity in a meaningful way – and in doing so, take the strain off London’s infrastructure during the games!