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Put muscle in your flex: Quit justifying, start implementing

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in Best-Practices Leadership,HR Management,Management Training

by Kyra Cavanaugh

For the past 15 years, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has invested $120 million in more than 350 projects focused on work/life issues. And that investment paid dividends in elevating the profile and the visibility of workplace flexibility issues—all the way to the White House.

It brought us sound research that built the business case for and framed flex as a critical business strategy.

In recent years, however, it’s become clear that this is not enough. Despite the sound data, companies are slow to adopt flexible workplace practices. Employees at award-winning workplaces continue to lament their lack of flexibility. While 80% of Americans say they want workplace flexibility, only a third report having it.

There are big barriers to adopting and sustaining flexible workplace practices within an organization. We need to shift our focus from the “why” to the “how.”

If Flex 1.0 was about convincing companies to implement flexible work policies and programs, Flex 2.0 is about helping companies overcome internal barriers in order to make flex a living, breathing part of their organizations.

Key components of Flex 2.0

1. Re-engage senior leadership. For many businesses, implementing a flexible work policy or program served a specific need. “It’s like they checked the box, and moved onto other things,” an executive at one award-winning company told me recently.

Senior leaders need to understand that flex is different from other HR programs. It’s not enough to sign off on the program; they need to visibly support it and invest resources to help it grow within the organization.

2. Help managers overcome resistance. Changing when and where employees work feels like a direct threat to a manager’s primary goal: to make sure the work gets done. Accustomed to face-time and relationship-driven cultures, it’s difficult for managers to imagine how flexible work teams can help improve results.

What’s more, it exposes their management weaknesses, and it challenges them to translate their style for mobile and remote teams.

Organizations need to offer workshops for managers and provide a venue for them to express concerns, as well as tools and tactics for managing flex teams.

3. Decentralize flex. Employers need to decentralize flex programs, empowering teams to choose their own flex work arrangements and style. How? Train managers to build their own flex teams. Host brown-bag lunches where they can compare notes and share ideas. Implement supports for managers, such as accountability partners.

4. Build a flex culture. The entire organization needs to see the direct link between flex and performance at their level.

The emphasis of flex programs needs to move from program tracking and exceptionalism (“Hey, look! Some workers have flexible work arrangements!”) to a culture in which everyone has the opportunity for flex work, based on their individual performance, job requirements and business needs.

5. Identify the latent need for flex in your organization. It’s not enough to base assessments of flexible working arrangements on the feedback of those who currently use flex. More than one-third of employees worry about the negative ramifications of requesting flex, so they’ve never even consider using it.

You need to measure the gap between employees who do use flex arrangements and those who would like to, but—for whatever reason—don’t. You’ll find a free assessment tool at www.lifemeetswork.com/services/flex-work-assessments.

6. Build a cross-functional senior flex team. Facilities management staff members drive telework programs in many companies. IT owns the flex infrastructure. HR heads up flex policies. These teams need to work together to advance flex initiatives. That doesn’t happen in most organizations.

Flex 2.0 will require those departments to come together to build a cross-functional team that collaborates to support flex culture.

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Author: Kyra Cavanaugh is president of Life Meets Work, a Park Ridge, Ill., consulting firm specializing in workplace flexibility. Contact her at (888) 462-5691. This column is excerpted from a “Corporate Voices for Working Families” blog series exploring themes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s “Focus on Workplace Flexibility” national conference.

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