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Managing Employees Who Work a Flexible Schedule or Remotely

Published by: LifeWorks,

Many organizations support flexible working arrangements, including flexible hours, a compressed workweek, job sharing, part-time work, and telecommuting. Studies have shown that well-managed, flexible arrangements can lead to increased productivity and efficiency, as well as improved recruitment, retention, and morale.

The challenge of managing flexible work arrangements

If flexible or remote work is not the usual mode of operation, there may be questions that arise when managing employees who work a flexible schedule:

  • How can you tell whether employees are really working when you can’t see them?
  • Should employees on flexible work plans be evaluated in the same way as other employees?
  • What if more people want flexibility than can be accommodated?
  • What if on-site employees resent covering or providing support for those working from home?

Managing these and other challenges requires ongoing communication and careful planning for a successful outcome. It’s important that everyone on your team understand the details of the arrangement, from work hours to measuring goals to making efficient use of technology.

Start with a plan

Establish a plan with the employee. Ensure the plan that has been approved by management and create a written document that you can refer to and update as necessary. Check with human resources (HR) early in the process about established policies and procedures for setting up and monitoring these plans.

Every plan will be different, but the working plan between you and the employee should include:

A trial period to allow each party to evaluate the benefits of the arrangement. If successful, plan to hold periodic reevaluations. Write a provision that clearly states that the arrangement can be ended when it’s not working for either party.

Hours and days the employee will work. Whether employees work on site or at home, you—and co-workers—need to know when they are working and available. For employees who are eligible for overtime, you will need a tracking system that ensures any overtime worked is compensated as required by law. Talk with HR about this early on.

How responsibilities will be shared. If two employees are sharing a job, spell out each person’s duties, including how and when they will communicate with each other, with co-workers, and you. Employees working flexible hours or compressed workweeks (regularly working some long days to earn either a day or part of a day off) should have a plan for handling phone calls and questions when they are out of the office.

How contingencies will be handled. Will the employee attend meetings held on days that are not “office days”? How will the employee pitch in during peak or seasonal production periods?

Working remotely

Here are some common guidelines for managing employees who work off-site:

Make sure the employee’s home office area is appropriate to the nature of the work. In most cases, that means a private area in the home set aside for business. In order to be productive, telecommuters need a quiet and uncluttered space, free from the demands, distractions, and interruptions of life at home.

Review the arrangement with the HR department or legal advisers to clarify safety and liability issues.

In most cases, the organization provides the remote employee with the same type of technology that on-site employees have, including computer, voice mail, telephone, and so on. Technology has made telecommuting easier. It’s up to the telecommuter to make efficient use of all the tools available for working with colleagues and customers.

Job sharing

Two employees sharing one job can help the employees and the company, which benefits from two people’s ideas and energy while paying a single salary. Job sharers can also take over for one another if one is ill or has to be away from work.

Draw up a job-sharing agreement. Delineate responsibilities to ensure clear communication between the job sharers, the other employees, and the manager. Be sure to include in the written agreement if those sharing the job are expected to cover for each other, especially in the event of a protracted absence, such as a medical leave.

Encourage cooperation. Job sharing requires a high level of cooperation between two employees. Employees who are job sharing may sometimes worry that the other employee will do the job better, or alternatively, that the other employee won’t do a full half of the job. Avoid a competitive environment and encourage collaboration. Of course, if one employee isn’t performing up to expectations, you’ll need to address the issue with the employee individually and confidentially.

Measuring performance

Set measurable goals. Although you may not be in physical contact with your remote or flexible-schedule employee, measuring productivity is not about how quickly off-site employees respond to email and texts and return phone calls. Establishing clear goals and measuring productivity are as vital for employees who work a flexible schedule or off-site as they are for those working in the traditional fashion. Ensure clear and measurable objectives that are in line with your organization’s goals.

Stay connected. Communication is key when remote working. Have regular check-in meetings with your employee individually and with the team using software like Zoom and GoToMeeting.

Supporting flexibility

If you have planned carefully and communicated expectations clearly, flexible work arrangements should run smoothly. However, like any change, the new arrangement will need maintenance, and there will inevitably be some bumps in the road.

Anticipate a transition period. This transition period might result in decreased productivity, but it shouldn’t last for long. Employees may need extra support at the beginning of a new endeavor.

Respect the schedule. If you wouldn’t call a regular employee at home at 6 a.m., give the telecommuter the same courtesy. Telecommuting employees should not be on call all the time simply because they have the “privilege” of working at home. If frequent early morning, evening, and weekend contact is part of the job, it should be written into the original plan.

Educate others. If flexible scheduling is new in your department, you may want to talk with the team about its benefits. Let your employees know that your company or department supports flexible work in certain circumstances. If helpful, explain that research on flexible work has shown positive effects on productivity, recruitment, retention, absenteeism, and engagement. Be prepared to field their requests and to answer any questions about issues of coverage or concerns about extra work for on-site employees.

Meet regularly with the employee. Regular meetings help keep problems in check.

Maintain a personal connection with the employee. An electronic birthday card and other simple gestures can help to keep the connection between you positive.

Address issues right away. Just as you would with any employee, if you see a problem brewing (missed deadlines, incomplete reports, or complaints from customers or co-workers), review the situation with the employee. Sometimes employees may hesitate to mention a problem out of fear of losing the privilege of a flexible work arrangement. But if you encourage employees to come to you with issues from the beginning, you may be able to handle them before they become big problems.

Recognize that sometimes a flexible work arrangement doesn’t work. In that case, you and the employee—and, if appropriate, an HR representative—may want to meet, discuss the situation objectively, and either make plans to go back to the original work arrangement or come up with an alternative solution. Flexible work arrangements are dependent on several factors, including the ability to work independently, the nature of the work to be performed, the employee’s commitment, and good communication skills.

When things are in place and managed well, flexible arrangements not only work to the benefit of the employee, but to the team and the organization.

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