Flexible working environment has become a new normality after the pandemic in 2020 since employers realised that it can give more autonomy to their employees and be beneficial for their overall health and wellbeing.
Also, flexible working might be helpful for better work-life balance and increased productivity since the individual would understand their working preferences and what time of the day, they could be more productive and focused.
What do we mean by flexible working?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) suggests that flexible working ‘describes a type of working arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work.’
There’re a number of key factors that distinguish traditional working practices and flexible working environments:
- Flexible start and finish work time
- Remote work
- Compressed hours
- Staggered hours
- Annualized hours
Advantages of flexible working are the following:
- Possibility of enhancing work-life balance
- Can help to lessen time lost due to illness
- Beneficial for the management of long-term or chronic health conditions
- Promotes mental health and wellbeing
- Gives employees more freedom in how they conduct their work
- Possibility of increased productivity
According to research in the UK, part-time or flexible work is performed by 54% of the workforce, and 8.7 million full-time employees say they would like to work more flexibly. Flexibility is prized by millennials in particular; 92% of those born between 1980 and 2000 rank it as a top priority when searching for a job.
But there’re a number of challenges that arise with the flexible working environment. In our previous blog, we’ve discussed Issues associated with Health and Wellbeing while Working Flexibly and top tips on how to deal with these challenges.
Issues associated with Employee Working Style:
- Communication issues/the rise of virtual meetings
- Micromanagement /Fear about getting work done
- Prioritisation of work tasks
Communication Issues: The rise of virtual meetings in the Flexible Working Environment
Flexible working has naturally encouraged the use of virtual meetings and we will all be familiar with their downside. On-line, we are not as adept at reading body language and our interactions are not as fluid. We have all experienced how, apart from the relatively low effort required to attend an online meeting (and even then, technology can let us down). I think most people will agree that zoom meetings are just harder work all round. Virtual meetings often struggle along, and conversation can become stilted and lack fluidity.
Top Tips for better virtual meetings
- Set clear objectives and agenda for the meeting, and ensure people receive this in advance
- Encourage staff to jot down ideas rather than interrupt others as this disrupts the fluidity of the meeting which is already compromised because of its virtual nature
- Determine meeting action points, keep them as short as you can
- Offer breaks for long meetings
- Give people time to think about what is being presented and time to respond
- Be aware that not everyone likes a chat function as not all people are super quick typists and are nervous about contributing without spell check
- Be aware of the barriers to sound quality, not everyone’s internet is great, and someone not responding could be that they can’t hear very well
- Ensure that staff input is recognised and acknowledged as valuable if not, you will discourage further contributions
- Encourage staff to contribute with prompts
- Set a clear finish time at the outset of the meeting
Flexible working encourages micromanagement
Flexible working encourages micromanagement of employees with productivity being a common concern. This is understandable as incidental ‘touch base’ style management interaction is diminished in the flexible working environment leading to tension between individuals and their managers.
Top tips for micromanagement issues
- Line management training in teamwork, especially in the virtual environment is key to reducing micromanagement issues
- Nurturing trust between you and your team members is key to helping with this issue.
- Management training in developing clear communications is vital in a flexible working situation. Measuring progress and goal achievement within time frames needs to be clarified such that the manager and employee understand the parameters. This goes a long way to establishing trust. Once trust has been established, micromanagement becomes less of an issue.
Everyone procrastinates to some degree. There have been many research studies on the reasons why people do this and why and the results from these studies have been fascinating and insightful.
Procrastination is a problem many employees struggle with in their working lives, and it can be more difficult to manage when you are flexibly working. As a species, human beings often struggle with delaying, avoiding, ignoring, or procrastinating on tasks that they find challenging. The more employees procrastinate with work issues, the more pressure and stress they may feel which can lead to anxiety and a sense of overload.
In an up-and-coming Thrive4Life blog we will be exploring procrastination in detail with top occupational psychologist, Cheryl Isaacs.
Top tips for managing procrastination
- Where procrastination is due to overwhelm, employees can help themselves by breaking down projects into manageable chunks. Whilst list forming is helpful it can still lead to a feeling of overwhelm.
- A recommended approach is mind mapping which gives a sense of perspective especially with breaking down an employee’s workload, reducing the feeling of overwhelm.
- Employees need to be aware of their energy levels throughout the day. Some employees work at their best very early in the day and for others their peak time is mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Being aware of when they are most creative is important and this knowledge should be employed to help them work effectively in the flexible working environment.
- Some work is of course uninspiring, and all employees have to do this type of work at some time or another. Where a task is uninspiring employees should be encouraged to find ways to support themselves. It could be setting a challenge to finish a spreadsheet within a certain time period and then reward themselves with a treat of a rest break with a favourite snack. Different incentives will work for different people.
Prioritisation and Flexible Working Environment
Prioritisation and time management are other areas that employees often struggle with when working alone from home.
Occupational Psychologist, Cheryl Isaacs in her recent talk organised by Thrive4Live, highlighted how tasks that are important, but not that urgent, such as those associated with self-development, often get pushed aside. However, these are important and should form a key part of employee planning. Cheryl advises that it is helpful for employees to plan these sorts of things way in advance and gave the example of when she began planning to take three weeks off to write a book. However, she decided this a year in advance to make it work. She explained that these sorts of commitments need plenty of time for planning if they are to be successfully actioned.
Top tips for prioritisation
- The Eisenhower is a classic time management technique that helps us focus on the issues surrounding prioritisation better. It is visually shown in the form of a box (see below) which highlights key points around what employees should be doing to help themselves with prioritisation. It is simple and easy to understand and useful model in guiding and directing employees in what work to do and in what order and helping them to develop good time management skills.
- Employees need to be made aware of how poor email management can affect their work by eating up time. Some of the email’s employees receive appear to be urgent and important, aren’t sometime and they can be reduced or eliminated. It’s common for employees to get waylaid into reading and acting on an email that just isn’t a high priority. For example, subscription emails that just keep coming but don’t offer any value. Or getting caught up in a time-consuming work activity that doesn’t give them return on value.
- Cheryl’s advice to employees is to set some time aside, say once a week, to focus just on planning and making sure that you incorporate these important but not urgent items so that they don’t get left out of your schedule.
- Everyone finds it difficult to designate chunks of time to working on large projects, where they are able to achieve some extended focus, and all of us experience how small, but urgent tasks, creep into our agenda, peppering our day with disruption and often breaking into these designated focus times. Cheryl suggests trying to carve out some designated high focus times. And let other team members know this is what you are doing, dissuading them from contacting you during these times. This way of working tends to be contagious, and what you might find is that the idea catches on and others in the team follow suit.
Overall, flexible working is a great setting for enhancing work-life balance, lowering sick days, and possibly boosting productivity.
Although, flexible workers should understand that this type of environment is associated with work style issues, such as communication issues with virtual meetings, micromanagement, procrastination, and the problem of task prioritisation.
Following the tips to deal with challenges arising with employees’ working styles flexible working environment has the potential to become productive and ensure a better work-life balance.
How Thrive4Life can help!
Thrive4Life can provide customised Line Manager training as well as MHFA and Wellbeing Champion training. We offer health promotion in the form of an extensive library of engaging content with well-designed articles / ePublications and monthly specialist talks on all aspects of health and wellbeing.
For companies who are looking for support with a strategy and ongoing process of health and wellbeing engagement that they can build over time, Thrive4Life has used a backdrop of over 30 years’ experience of delivering specialist health, safety and wellbeing guidance across multiple industries to develop an innovative, cost-effective solution that can help any size of organisation in the form of a fully customisable Health and Wellbeing Discovery Hub.
For more information about Thrive4Life services and training courses, get in touch or call us on 020 8972 9675.