According to a recent survey of more than 32,000 workers from 17 countries, nearly two thirds of today’s workforce would consider looking for a new job if they were required to return to the office full time. In response to this growing demand for flexible work, many organizations are embracing new ways of working — but it’s not always obvious how to give people the flexibility they want and need while still ensuring you achieve your business objectives.

There’s More Than One Kind of Flexibility

Ensuring productivity, achieving business objectives, and meeting the needs of your workforce all require visibility into your organization. But how you maintain that visibility depends on the type of flexibility you intend to implement, and so the first step in developing effective visibility practices is to determine which type of flex work will be the best fit for your organization. 

  • Universal flexibility: In-office and remote days are fixed across the organization
  • Variable flexibility: Scheduling decisions are made at the team level and may be different across the organization
  • Case-by-case flexibility: Individuals set their own schedules and adhere to them consistently
  • Fluid flexibility: Individuals work wherever and whenever they want, with no location constraints

Once leaders have clearly established the kind of flexibility they intend to offer, they can shift their focus to understanding how employees work within that paradigm, and what it will take to support them effectively in this new flexible setting.

Different People Have Different Visibility Needs

When implementing new policies and social norms for visibility, it is critical to avoid blanket solutions. Specific visibility requirements will of course vary organization to organization, but here are some common needs:

  • Senior leaders need visibility to ensure strategic alignment, effective cross-collaboration, and coordination across the organization. They will typically need access to data such as indicators of burnout, distractions, and workload distribution across teams. Data can help leaders pinpoint who needs help, how quickly the problem is spreading, and where they should prioritize immediate action.
  • Mid-level managers need more granular visibility. These leaders are uniquely positioned to support the productivity of teams and individual direct reports by coaching them through issues such as distractions, collaboration fatigue, daily routines, and break practices. They are also responsible for identifying training opportunities, matching employees’ capacities and capabilities to the optimal tasks and roles, and managing bandwidth and utilization levels. 
  • Individual contributors also have visibility needs that can be challenged by the shift to flexible work. Data about their peers’ focus times and schedule preferences can help employees communicate and work together more effectively.

Once you’ve mapped out what kinds of visibility different stakeholders in your organization need, you can work backwards to determine what kinds of data you’ll need to collect. 

Measurement Strategies Must Be Carefully Designed

Designing effective measurement systems is no easy task. Data has the potential to be tremendously useful and produce relevant, actionable insights — but without the right approach, it can also be overwhelming and even misleading.

Consider, for example, data regarding when employees log on and off of their computers. Depending on how this data source is used, it could inform conclusions that lead to dramatically different outcomes. If an organization institutes “average number of hours worked per day” as a performance indicator, leadership may feel compelled to reward employees who work the longest. How long someone spends logged into their computer is not always an accurate indicator of productivity. But what if instead, the organization used the same data to track “variability of start times” as an indicator of healthy work habits? This could help managers identify employees whose engagement might be suffering and proactively initiate conversations to help them find ways to feel more excited about their work. 

Smart measurement is essential to understanding the impact of flexibility. As such, it’s important to identify the new performance indicators that will be most relevant and helpful to your organization, and focus your visibility efforts accordingly.

Trust Is Key

As with any major transition, developing and maintaining mutual trust is critical to ensuring success when launching a new approach to visibility. Specifically, there are three components that are necessary to build trust:

  • Transparent communication: leaders must clearly communicate the data they intend to collect, expectations for using this data, and any changes to the strategy along the way.
  • Access to data and insights: it’s important to build processes to ensure that information is shared with all intended stakeholders in a timely fashion, and in a way that feels relevant to and supportive of the work at hand.
  • Action and real-time adjustments: leaders must take action based on the data they collect and collaborate with the team to adjust as needed.

The most effective leaders move beyond this minimum and actively empower all relevant stakeholders to take an active role in improving their own workflows and addressing organization-wide challenges. The following table illustrates this spectrum of approaches and their impact on leaders’ ability to build trust:

If employers don’t have the visibility they need, they will miss valuable opportunities to provide training, optimize workflows, and invest in critical new technologies. But if employees don’t have flexibility they need, they will lose trust in their leaders, grow frustrated with the lack of autonomy, and become less engaged. The challenge today’s leaders face is to carefully consider  these interconnected dynamics, and to identify and implement the forms of flexibility and visibility that will empower their teams and be most effective for their business.

Source: Harvard Business Review