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A five day, 40 hour working week has been the worldwide standard for hundreds of years.  But just because it’s the status quo doesn’t mean it’s the best way. More and more people are demanding a flexible work environment to help them deal with demands of a busy, modern lifestyle.

So many aspects of modern life have changed the way people live and work.  Most households rely on a double income to make the financial side of life work.  Equal, higher education for both sexes has changed the traditional family dynamic with women actively (and successfully) pursuing careers of their own.

Technological advances have done away with being chained to your desk in the office.  And the much discussed millennial generation has entered the workforce, bringing with them more focus on work-life balance and technology than ever before.

Many companies are changing their thinking, giving employees the opportunity to work from home or have flexible hours so they can fit their work responsibilities around other essential commitments.

In New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian made worldwide headlines with their four day working week.  The trial was so successful, it has now become a permanent option for staff.  Andrew Barnes, the founder of the trust recently released a white paper detailing their learnings and the impact of a four day working week on the business.

Another movement towards more flexibility, the gig economy is has become a much debated topic lately. This is the trend towards short term contracts or freelance work instead of permanent jobs.  Locally, Lime Scooters has taken full advantage of this model.   It is also common internationally with buzzy, high successful start-ups like Postmates relying on gig economy labour for their workforce.

Why flexibility works for me as a business owner

This discussion is going to get louder as more people strive for a work life balance that seems increasingly elusive in modern life.

At my company Energise, I have created a completely flexible work environment for my team.  We are based in Parnell with a modern office space.  However, all staff have the option to choose whether to work from home or the office.  While we have hours the team needs to be available for phone calls or client meetings, they can also choose when they want to work.

From my perspective as a business owner, the benefits of this work arrangement include:

  • Tapping into a workforce of highly qualified, experienced individuals, who for whatever reason can’t work full time or regular office hours
  • Having staff available to work when needed without having unproductive people sitting at desks to meet their weekly requirement of hours
  • Happy team, happy life – increased flexibility allows everyone to meet their other commitments (e.g. sick children, emergency vet visits, a broken window) without any stress. Minimal stress leads to happier, more productive employees and a better functioning business for me
  • Our culture is based on trust and respect so from the start its positive and continues to gather momentum from there
  • As a business owner, its humbling to acknowledge the whole person (with multiple roles) not just the person who trucks up to work each day – in my experience this increases loyalty and retention

Benefits for the team include:

  • Being able to do work you enjoy AND fit it around other responsibilities including family, community or personal projects
  • No stress about getting a minimum number of hours done each week, it’s more about ensuring the work is completed to deadlines and budget
  • Being able to work remotely; cutting out valuable time spent commuting and taking away stress when children are sick or an emergency happens at home

Making a flexible work environment a success

In my experience, there are four critical areas which can make or break a flexible working situation:

  • A high level of trust is essential in this kind of work arrangement.  You can’t micro manage.  This will never work if you are constantly checking progress on projects and questioning what has and hasn’t been done.
  • I have found communication is the key to making a flexible office run smoothly. Make sure you are clear about expectations on deliverables and deadlines at the beginning of projects.
    • Communicate any changes to the team quickly
    • Regular internal WIP meetings are also a must
    • External communication is just as critical, maybe even more important than internal communication. Make sure staff have clear guidelines on communicating with clients and expectations around replying to external emails and phone calls.
  • Recruit well. Your recruitment process is another vital area.  This type of working situation does not suit everyone so it is essential to be up front about working style preferences and other non-negotiable factors you need as a business owner to make this work.
  • Flexible work arrangements would not be possible without the technology we have available today.  Take advantage of digital tools including:
    • Slack – instant messaging that makes communication quick, easy and keeps inboxes unclogged
    • Trello – a list making application that simplifies project collaboration
    • Workflow Max –control time sheeting, quoting and job and workflow management from one system
    • Skype and video calls
    • Conference calls
    • Team drives whether through Google Drive or Microsoft to ensure everyone can access documents anytime, anywhere

In summary

While a flexible work environment doesn’t suit everyone, I have found it to be a highly successful solution to my staffing needs at Energise.  While I am by no means the biggest expert in this area, over the years, I have developed a successful work model that meets the needs of both the business and my staff.

There have definitely been a few learning curves on the way so if you’re interested in implementing this in your business I’m more than happy to chat – get in touch or leave a message in the comments below.