It is a well-researched that many employees love AWAs (or Flexible Work Arrangements, as they are also called) and they can raise your employee engagement scores. As a consultant who has assisted clients in implementing these, I also love them. I especially like well executed “work from home” policies, which is a big part of what I will be writing about in this article. As a small business owner, creating my workplace and limiting my commute has made me more productive and vastly improved my work satisfaction, so I am big fan. When AWAs are well planned and implemented, they are a win-win for employees and employers alike. The problem is that when they are not well planned and executed, which seems just as often, they can be a disaster for companies.
If you are a company with limited real estate and where most work happens virtually or have no real offices, most of this won’t apply to you. You are the forefront of the new workplace. And most likely (hopefully) you have an interview protocol that helps you select only those individuals who are a good fit for a virtual organization. Most people can learn how to do this with the right structure and help, but it is not for everyone or for everyone’s life or living situation.
There are many variables that impact the success of an AWA/FWA program, but in my experience these are the most important:
It is interesting how often clients implement these programs and then the executives rue the day they launched AWAs in their business unit. I hear crazy stories that confirm what I know for sure: AWA programs generally work as well as the systems and leaders that manage them. They can be a big boost for your most talented and creative employees and a big draw to attract the best talent to your organization. They can also be a terrible excuse for your least productive employees to do even less work and for burdening your most productive and conscientious employees who are left holding the bag, usually at the office!
To be effective AWA programs need to be wired with common sense. For example, why would any organization (other than a virtual one) allow a new leader or employee to start a weekly work from home agreement in the first 90 days of starting a new job? Those first three months require an initial investment in getting to know your team and colleagues and letting them get to know you. I am particularly shocked when I hear about a new high level leader who is “MIA” according to her or his team because they are working from home two days a week at the start of their new job. This will rarely be a good idea.
The more planning you do for an AWA program or to update an existing program, the better. Depending upon the size of your organization, an effective program can take a year or two to start. You need time to plan, socialize, train leaders (first), and employees. You need to make sure that it is aligned with your talent strategy and the actual jobs that people do. Most importantly you need to structure it so that it remains a privilege with responsibilities on both sides and that it never becomes an entitlement. When well planned and executed, AWA programs will offer your business some big advantages and create a better experience for your employees. They should take time to implement because they are worth it.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a bi-monthly post about the work of building better people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.