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Two of the biggest reasons people disengage at work are a) policies with arbitrary and often antiquated, strict and unnecessarily punitive time requirements and b) micro-management. A current workplace trend towards greater schedule flexibility in how, and where, and when work gets one, is gaining in popularity. While some jobs, such as customer-facing front-line workers in the foodservice industry have legitimate reasons for strict time management, there are dozens of examples of the benefits to creating a work environment where the supervisor and employee work together to determine how work gets done, and when, and where, and with what priority.
Giving employees agency in their own work fosters healthier, more productive workplaces. New business tools, like business project management software packages, have been made available and are wonderful, cost-effective methods to facilitate a more flexible work environment.
Here are some of the many advantages to the shift towards permitting more schedule flexibility – and some suggestions for how to do so in a just and equitable manner that allows both employers and employees to meet their needs. We have also included ways that process management software can help facilitate each process to ensure that company concerns over productivity in a flexible setting are addressed, and targets are adequately met.
Schedule flexibility advantages
It is tempting to view employees as numbers on a spreadsheet, as robots on an assembly line might be considered – “output expectation Y multiplied by x hours,” but real human employees are not robots. Giving employees autonomy in deciding how their time is best used, letting them switch from task to task, and allowing them to decide what needs to be prioritized and how to best achieve results; provides the baseline for a trust-based, productive, responsive environment.
By giving employees the ability to switch between tasks in a way that promotes synergy and efficiency and reduces mental, physical, or emotional fatigue; they become more efficient at what they do, and they measurably improve productivity and bottom line. Business process management software packages are wonderful tools for helping employees prioritize tasks, complete assignments in a timely fashion, monitor their progress, communicate their challenges, receive feedback, and get needed results out to others in your company and/or to clients.
A flexible work environment, combined with excellent communication platforms and/or ability of employees to help design the workspace, allows employees time, confidence, and tools to collaborate with each other.
Collaboration between and among employees has been shown to provide the following 7 benefits for efficiency, employee engagement, employee satisfaction, client satisfaction, and a harmonious work environment:
- Reduction of duplication of effort
- Open sharing of knowledge and resources
- Ability to expand client services
- Ability to improve customer experience
- Better attention to process flow and central vision
- Improving standards of quality
- Creating strong sense of belonging and friendship within your organization
Business process management software can facilitate collaboration in dozens of different ways, from identifying potential for collaborations, to sharing information, to providing digital meeting spaces, to scheduling, to providing excellent communication platforms between employees.
Employees that can arrange their schedules and workspaces (especially remotely, when necessary) and work to meet the excessively demanding needs of modern life are less stressed, more engaged, and show reduced rates of physical and mental absenteeism. They also show fewer problem behaviors. The other side of the employee stress issue, apart from the obvious work-life balance element, pertains also to workplace culture.
Schedule Flexibility makes organizations better equipped to respond to problems and challenges that can demolish morale, and the increased opportunity for collaboration often creates a more supportive environment where employees feel confident asking for help, voicing their ideas, and recognizing each other. There is also a greater ability to schedule adequate support during busiest times, reducing stress loads on employees who often are tasked in the 21st century environment to cover the work of two or more workers.
Good business management software can moderate workplace stress levels in a variety of ways, as well as seamlessly integrate the work of employees who are working at off-site locales, different times, etc. through the same types of communication platforms and tools as we have listed for collaboration. Additionally, supervisors can help employees stay on task, and ensure management that workplace goals for productivity, quality, and timeliness are being met.
It hardly needs to be said that employees whose work schedules facilitate self-care of physical, mental, social, and emotional health needs; are happier, healthier, and more productive employees. The flexibility to contribute from off-site, or completely take needed time off for recovery from illness, has another added benefit- reduction of office absenteeism. Simply put, keeping employees who are ill out of the office means that fewer of your other employees are going to also become ill.
Process management software can help with communication platforms, contingency planning, vacation and emergency coverage of vital processes, and all the collaboration and stress management tools listed above.
Tapping the talent of your employees
Employee productivity is not the only area where employee individuality can be managed for maximum benefit to both employer and employee. Talent identification, development, and optimization is another area that is essentially driven by the presence (or absence) of a flexible work environment. Often considered only a need in highly artistic or technological industries, the truth is that almost every type of work environment – from bakery to doctor’s office to political campaigns to preschools – can benefit by tapping into employee talent and creativity.
Creating workloads where employees focus most of their time on their strengths is one way to foster this dimension of human potential. Consider using software to free up more of your employees time. You can implement inventory tracking software to manage stock levels and products. Fostering collaboration and two-way management-employee communication is another way. The third way, often overlooked, is allowing employees to work to their internal clocks (where possible).
Every person has an internal natural biorhythm that influence when and how they do their best thinking, best creative work, best detailed tasks, etc. For example, highly creative people often work best late morning, and late afternoon; whereas highly driven Type A people, early morning and night; but highly traditional workers, want a non-changing schedule, and typically work well within a non-changing 9-5 schedule.
When people work to their full talent potential, they often contribute the best and brightest ideas. Process management software can help in this situation to track employee contributions, keep employees on task to meet targets and goals, and provide a clearinghouse for investigating employee ideas and contributions.
Promotion of workplace diversity
A very important advantage to flexible workplaces is that they are especially attractive to women and minorities in the workplace; and can be a large part of the reason that these employees remain engaged contributors, or start looking elsewhere for employment. The realities of balancing family, study, and personal obligations with work commitments can be a backbreaking burden when factors such as daycare schedules, after-school activities, medical appointments for aging parents, continuing education requirements, public transportation, long commutes, and other factors are considered.
The ability to work remotely, work non “9-5” hours, work a part-time schedule, and otherwise contribute in non-traditional manners to a company greatly help women and others with extenuating needs to fully engage and participate in the workplace. The type of supportive, collaborative, environment that naturally emerges with greater schedule flexibility is also more appealing to people of diverse backgrounds, ages, and talents.
Other areas already covered are applicable here- especially managing employee coverage to attend to changing demand, and tools for real-time communication, collaboration, and productivity management.
Kill micromanagement before it breeds
Few things are more detrimental to workplace contribution, engagement, and morale than micromanagement of talented, trustworthy employees. As we have covered, flexible work environments are designed to be outcome oriented rather than process-oriented; thus, they facilitate employees working to their full potential. Micro-management is controlling and it’s difficult to thrive in such a situation.
Employers are more likely to be known for their solid contributions rather than their time logged on the clock and what they did with every five minutes of their time. Building agility into the processes often eliminates unnecessary additional supervisor control and oversight.
Building outcome-based goals into your software platforms also allows employees to clearly demonstrate how they contribute to the bottom-line of the organization; or for an employer to make a concrete case for employee termination, or, often more desirable, transfer. Keep these tips in mind to better your business and give your employees a break.
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