Image Credit: Zahra Allowatia/©Gulf News

We have all heard — or been part — of that organisation where every minute is accounted for. You know, that morbid looking place where sullen employees spend their days in a closed square cubicle and eat lunch in a pantry facing the wall.

We can ask ourselves one question — were we happy? Did our water-cooler conversations always revolve around the weekend or the next escape holiday? I’ve seen many highly-talented personnel leave their organisations. The rigid environment either leads them to escape, or their spark dies.

A senior ranking executive in a leading organisation tells me often of the 12 years he spent in an inflexible corporate where he traded his creativity for a mediocre existence between sign-in and sign-out. As a CEO today, his management strategy is dramatically different.

His employees have clearly defined goals and timelines they meet over flexible hours from remote locations. A progressive leader would acknowledge the importance of workplace flexibility and how, if implemented well, it can result in high-achieving dynamic employees. This clearly seems to be a win-win route that many broad-minded organisations are adopting to manage the free-spirited millennial employee.

JP Morgan Chase found that 95 per cent of employees working in an environment where the manager is sensitive to informal flexibility feel motivated to exceed expectations, compared to 80 per cent in environments where the manager is not sensitive to needs for informal flexibility.

Workplace flexibility takes sound leadership that is driven on trust, shared values, principles and company guidelines. Simply put, this is a working style mutually agreed upon between the employer and employee as to when, where and how they would work to deliver the organisation’s needs.

Implementing the strategy can be a complex process as it requires attention to multiple factors. I believe, the key is to ensure a positive impact on the organisation’s overall performance, employee happiness and customer satisfaction. It’s crucial to have an organisation-wide consensus on the flexibility options that should be extended to employees.

While extending workplace flexibility to employees, organisations in the UAE must consider:

Infrastructure: Does your organisations infrastructure support remote login if you were to offer a work-from-home option? Is there a mechanism in place if there’s a breach of confidential data? Have you implemented a robust communication system to connect with the employee while he/she is at a remote location?

Industry and business size: A study into the needs and operational pressures of each business should be considered to evaluate if you can support flexible working hours. For example, staff associated with a store in the retail industry may not have much flexibility to alter their start/end time, but they could choose a particular shift or can be permitted to work at multiple store locations.

Similarly, for a manufacturing firm, flexible in and out times are likely to increase overheads cost as the factory’s operation depends on the presence of all employees managing a particular operation, which on the other hand is known to improve productivity among IT/ITeS employees.

Another consideration is the size of the firm — small firms or businesses that have fewer employees may find it easier to implement informal flexibility, whereas larger organisations may need an established formal flexibility policy.

Impact on job roles and demographics: It may be easier to implement flexibility by creating a ‘Results Only Work Environment’ (ROWE), which may work fabulously well for certain roles, such as sales than others that require dedicated personnel presence. Furthermore, understanding the organisation’s demographics could determine the success of an initiative.

If a large chunk of employees is in the higher age bracket, the said organisation may benefit from including partial retirement or phased retirement in their strategy.

Maturity level of employees: An honest assessment of business’ workforce quality should be undertaken. Will the employees be able to deliver under limited supervision? Does introduction of workplace flexibility risk organisation’s fair-treatment-for-all policy?

Obviously, a company that is blessed with a workforce of dedicated and conscientious employees is far more likely to be productive in a flexible environment than is one that is burdened with a heavy sprinkling of unmotivated employees.

Well-established guiding principles and trainings: To ensure successful roll-out, organisations must not only develop a robust docket of principles but also ensure that it is effectively percolated through adequate trainings. The guidelines should specify eligibility, process for availing the benefit, caveats, and exceptions that come along the way.

A flexible workplace requires a change in mindset and development of new skills for work management. Hence, once the guidelines are in place, employees should be trained so that they are comfortable in using the flexi benefits.

At the same time, managers should be educated to adopt a suitable mindset. If an employee fears being judged or rated differently, the initiative may not deliver the expected results.

Measurement mechanism: The added flexibility may involve creating new methods of measuring job success. Also, clear metrics would need to be identified for work flexibility initiatives so that it adequately justifies the time, effort, and resources invested in the implementation. These metrics should be monitored, periodically reviewed, and revised.

A well-implemented flexibility strategy at the workplace can have innumerable benefits to both the employee and the employer. This strategy forms a New-Age leadership system that rewards the talent for the right reasons.

I’ll leave you with just one question — can you become the kind of organisation that no good employee wants to leave?

The writer is the Vice-President of TASC Outsourcing.