You don’t need a flexible work policy, you need this

One of the most popular enquiries I received from my network during COVID-19 was for advice on flexible work policies.

Leaders wanting to adjust to the times said “We need to update our flexible work policy.” For sure – the last thing you want is a policy that falls over.

But there’s a secret that Human Resources and Organisational Development professionals know, and business leaders may be less familiar with.  

Your best outcomes

I am making some assumptions here about what you want: 

  • A flexible workplace that actually works
  • Productive individuals
  • Satisfied and effective managers
  • None of the risks associated with flexible work: disengagement, lack of productivity or loss of team culture 

It is reasonable to assume that a flexible work policy plays an important role in achieving these outcomes. This was the first thing that many business leaders wanted to review during the first half of 2020, as the COVID-19 response took hold.  

Let’s take a look at why this might be the case and what you actually need to do…

Hard factors

Some leaders jump to their flexible work policy as their key tool to create positive outcomes with flex. This reminds me of how leaders often look first to technology solutions to improve workplace productivity. Policies are observable. Like technology. A policy is a ‘hard factor’.

Hard factors are comfortable and obvious. They’re easy to understand. Easy to measure, and hard to ignore. 

The only problem is, flexible work policies have little influence on the mechanics that actually make a great flexible workplace. 

That is why flexible work policies are blunt tools for achieving positive workplace outcomes. Despite all the focus on policies, they don’t deliver. Policies rarely change behaviours. People will find ways around a flexible work policy and excuses for not aligning with it. They will show what they think of it by their actions. More often than not, a flexible work policy alone will fail to deliver on expectations.

The changing role of policies in change

More and more I see clients opting for ‘one page’ policies – high level statements that provide a clear general position, and that is about it. Gone are the 20-page long policies that consider every possibility. Forward thinking employers are finding ways to make life easy for their people by shrinking the size of their policies to almost nothing. 

This is a great approach in my view. I could even go so far as to say that you don’t actually need a policy. You probably need something else entirely.

Internal technology

The reality is that what holds most workplaces back from becoming flexible is an internal technology. That internal technology is mindset. Linked with mindset – creating it – is a set of beliefs, values and experiences. 

Managers will say things like: 

“People might take advantage of the organisation”

“I need to see my people to know they’re really working”

“There are some people in my team I wouldn’t trust to work flexibly or remotely”

“If I say yes to one, it will open the floodgates.” 

And even if they don’t say these things, it’s often what they’re thinking. Not exactly the thinking you need to avoid disengagement, lack of productivity and loss of team culture…. 

To be fair, each workplace needs to address ten core factors to ensure that risks are addressed and opportunities will be realised. Our flexibility framework outlines these so that leaders know exactly where to look. There are genuine issues, and decisions that business leaders need to make. 

In my experience even once an organisation is perfectly positioned, with all these factors addressed, there is still an internal software upgrade needed – a mindset shift. With a mindset shift, you can get to a new normal of productive flexible and remote work that works smoothly in your business.

A change tool that works

You can get there with a change management tool that works. 

A strategic narrative is one of the key change tools you need. It is much more powerful than a flexible work policy for getting the mindset that leads to behaviours that support flexible work. 

Your strategic narrative sets the context and purpose for your workplace upgrade. It should invite people on a journey. It should paint a clear picture.  

Your strategic narrative could sound something like this: 

“We have always been at the cutting edge of innovation, from this example to that. Flexible work, as a work style innovation, is our next opportunity to lead in our industry. Flexible work, including working from home, will help us value our people so we attract and keep the best talent, and reduce our costs. Getting this right will be an incredible win-win for us. We are excited to create a culture of flex in our business, an engine for growth and productivity. We’re supporting all our managers to get on board.” 

Sometimes our clients already have a clear narrative before they work with us, and if they don’t, we help them establish it.  

You need your strategic narrative well ahead of establishing your flexible work policy, so get thinking. And if you would like a hand, reach out to us via this short introductory questionnaire to explore how we could support you to take the first step.