Meeting the needs of a flexible workforce (Generation Flex) means changing the way you manage it.
More and more, the prospect of flexibility in working hours to improve quality of life and achieve a better work-life balance is becoming a key motivator and consideration for employees. This includes spending less time in traffic, having more time with loved ones (particularly children), focusing on their health by having more time to visit the gym for example, and being allowed the freedom ‘self-manage’ and have creativity within their own productive spaces; amongst others.
The concept is known as Generation Flex, and in order for companies to attract and retain the best talent with the right skills in the market, this means shifting away from the old school mindset of “you can’t manage it if you can’t see it”. Employers will need to adopt more flexible working arrangements, whilst still managing their remote staff effectively to maintain a sense of ‘control’.
There is no specific cumulative data on the uptake and percentage of companies in South Africa who have adopted flexible working arrangements. However, as Recruitment Specialists dealing with various top clients in the South African market, we are noticing that the demand for flexibility is slowly being met by companies who are tailoring their offers in order to secure their talent.
So how do companies manage this flexible workforce to ensure that employees are still productive, motivated and relevant?
Tech, the true enabler
Firstly, you cannot talk about Generation Flex and remote working without acknowledging the key role that technology plays in making this possible. Technology is the true enabler for mobility that allows people to work from home, a coffee shop or even whilst having their hair done using that ‘wonderful thing called Wi-Fi’ along with smart phones, laptops and cloud solutions. With these, employees still access work emails, documentation, Skype and other meeting tools.
Therefore, it’s crucial that companies maintain their technology infrastructures and keep up-to-date with current tools and software that enable their staff to work remotely and being constantly connected with as little downtime as possible. Employers need to ensure that they the right IT and tech-based team to ensure their relevance. There are also a myriad of apps and software solutions with which employers can track and manage employees to ensure they are genuinely performing their duties as expected.
A new way of managing
Companies will need to adapt their traditional management styles to effectively manage a remote and flexible workforce. Here are some ways this can be achieved:
- Communication is key!
You have to keep in constant contact with your remote employees. Never allow them to be in a space where they feel isolated, unguided, or not part of the team. This doesn’t mean you need to check in every hour; but you do need to maintain a healthy communication schedule and include video communication tools like WhatsApp Video, Skype, Zoom and other web-based systems, along with phone calls.
- Encourage the team to connect and collaborate with one another regularly, so that a culture of teamwork is still maintained.
Schedule and plan web-based team meetings with an agenda using a conferencing system to get everyone in the ‘same room’. Also schedule good old fashioned face-to-face meetings once in a while, as well as team training or team-building activities. This regular interaction and engagement will help remote workers feel included and solidify their role in achieving the vision of the organisation.
- Never miss performance updates, as these become even more vital when you have a flexible workforce.
Set clear expectations from the start and monitor KPI’s and results. Managers are naturally concerned that productivity will suffer, thus necessary performance measurements will ensure everyone stay on course and deadlines are met.
- Have a trust relationship with your flexible and remote staff.
Trust should be a key component of your company culture, as well as your ability to be supportive and available to your employees, no matter their location. Make sure your employees feel valued, heard, and trusted. Remember: that element of trust was there when you hired the person initially, otherwise they would not have been offered the opportunity to work within a flexible schedule.
- Identify and manage any potential red flags that might arise.
Sometimes not being in a set office environment can lead to various distractions that might keep some employees from delivering on their deadlines and remaining productive. It can also lead to a feeling of isolation whilst other might find it difficult to adapt.
Managers need to make sure that they understand the different personalities of their employees and their skillsets – not all are suited to working remotely. Those who are very self-motivated, self-disciplined and natural self-starters would be ideally suited to working away from an office, while those who need more constant guidance and motivation are generally better off in a set office space. When employees start expressing frustration, are not delivering their work on time or no longer communicate with management or the rest of the team, it means you may need to step in with more guidance and more check-ins and maybe a revision of their remote status.
- Recognise good performance.
Maintain the culture of recognising when your employees are delivering quality and timeous work. Celebrate achievements during any meetings and in company announcements. It’ll ensure that productivity is both maintained and encouraged.
The remote working culture is often a very scary transition for many companies, however, if good management practices are maintained, such as the regular checking in, the constant communication, support and feedback, and clear expectations are set, this Generation Flex will be a lot more natural and more easily adopted in the South African workspace.