As working mothers continue to fill major roles in the workplace, the issue of flexibility remains at the forefront of our minds. While flexible work situations are becoming the standard in many organizations, making the leap to actually offering such solutions can be a major hurdle for employers. Consequently, asking for flexibility is both intimidating and overwhelming for many professionals. In the following guest post, Mom Corps CEO Allison O’Kelly examines the misconceptions of a flexible workplace, and offers advice on how to make this change an effective and successful solution for employees and employers.
What flexibility doesn’t mean: Common misconceptions rebuffed
By Allison O’Kelly
There is an unfortunate misconception among business leaders that “workplace flexibility” is just a concessionary benefit for employees that comes at a cost to employers. But like many things, it really shakes down to a fear of the unknown. Within the realm of workplace flexibility myths, a few false ideas stand strong—
“Workplace flexibility means my employees will work less.”
“If I can’t see my employees, they aren’t working.”
“Implementing a culture of flexibility is just too disruptive for our organization.”
These could be some of the opinions—whether overtly shared or just the concealed reason behind “no” – that working mothers have faced when seeking work alternatives in their place of business. Here’s how we tackle these misconceptions and help change those views of flexibility.
Flexibility isn’t working less, it’s working smarter. When organizations opt to implement flexibility, they are in essence giving employees permission to work in the best way possible. Let’s be honest, every person has a productivity schedule—personal times in which she works most efficiently. Every professional has a personal life—commitments, interests, families and responsibilities. Organizations that choose not to acknowledge the personal conditions of each employee are relinquishing the chance to have the most productive workforce possible. Aren’t we more productive and loyal when our employer is empathetic about our lives outside of the office? Aren’t we more engaged when we can work the times that best align with our peak productivity? Nine-to-five is an outdated work style that aligns with virtually no one’s work/life preference.
Flexibility is a focus on results. The concept of “working” doesn’t mean filling up eight-hour days in an office. Trust and accountability apply here—we’re big girls, we can get work done without the boss looking over our shoulders. Haven’t we proven our results time and again? At Mom Corps, we operate entirely under a system of ROWE, a results oriented work environment. By placing emphasis on results, all employees are held to the same standards and expectations. They have accountabilities and are expected to accomplish them on deadline, but in whatever style that suits them best.
Flexibility isn’t disruptive. A formulaic, straightforward, approach is best when talking about flexibility with minimal disruption. Introducing alternative work options into a culture or making the case for it to a manager or head of HR takes finesse, and we have a few suggestions for helping smooth the transition:
- Employees help define flexibility programs. Every company culture is different. Offering something that no one wants to participate in is a waste of everyone’s time. Hold a lunch conversation, take a survey, and talk with peers. You’ll learn that people likely aren’t expecting much—acknowledgement that they have a life outside the office and some accommodation to adjust work mode every now and then.
- Micro can work better than macro for flexibility. While macro implementation of flexible work programs is good overall, if it doesn’t work for the individual teams, the program will likely not get off the ground. Before the HR team launches into full program development, have work teams or divisions discuss and offer suggestions based on their needs and those required of the jobs they do. The dialogue should be around maintaining high productivity levels, challenges they face with work/life alignment, and the best way to work as a team.
- Start with a trial. Communicate that the first couple months is a test period to see what flexible work options can be productive long term. Ultimately, it is important to remember that offering flexible work options doesn’t mean everyone all of a sudden works remotely all the time and no one sees each other anymore (read more about that, here).
Flexibility gives professionals the opportunity to find synergy and enjoyment in both their professional and personal lives. Life is dynamic; our professional lives should be as well. Do you feel comfortable asking for flexibility at your workplace? What reads do you get from your boss—does he or she understand what flexibility really entails? What other ideas and observations can you share about implementing flex programs?
Allison O'Kelly is the founder and CEO of Mom Corps (www.momcorps.com), a national flexible staffing firm dedicated to connecting progressive employers with professionals seeking flexible work options.