Insights (Blog) - Diversity & Flexibility Alliance

Are You Walking The Talk on Flexibility?

Tips for Managing a Team When You’re Working a Flexible Schedule

This article by Manar Morales was published on ThriveGlobal.com on November 29, 2018.

It’s one of the most important traits found in good leaders. They lead by example. Never is this more important than when the leader is working a flexible schedule. The fact is there are certain behaviors that are necessary to successfully working a flexible schedule. And, if you’re managing a team while working a flexible schedule, it’s your responsibility to model these behaviors to interrupt flex stigma and unconscious bias, and set the tone for the rest of your team.

 

Laying the Foundation for the Business Case

As a former employment litigator, an adjunct professor and now as the President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, I have advised and coached hundreds of individuals and organizations on flex-related issues during my twenty-plus-year career. In every case, the success or failure of a flexibility initiative has depended on the actions, commitment and support of leadership. Leaders must begin by laying the foundation for the business case for flexibility. It’s essential that they communicate with all employees that the flex initiative is a business imperative and essential for the recruitment and retention of top talent.

 

Embracing the Cultural Shift

For a flexible work initiative to be successful and to benefit all employees, leaders need to guide a shift in organizational culture to one that sincerely supports and embraces flexibility. Research shows that while many organizations offer a flexible schedule, only a small percentage of the workforce take advantage of the policies. Education and training on flexibility can help close this gap between policy and practice and help to shift the culture of an organization

 

Trust in Your Team is Paramount

While leaders play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the flex initiative, the responsibility should be shared with the entire team and leaders must be able to trust their team. As Dell’s Global Director of Human Resources, Mohammed “Mo” Chahdi, explains, “In a flexible work environment, leaders must make a conscious decision to trust their team members and to hold them accountable for their outcomes, rather than trying to control them on a day to day basis.” Dell has demonstrated a clear commitment to flexibility as a key component of its culture and their leadership team has led the initiative by working remotely and modeling the behaviors that give it legitimacy.

 

Leading By Example

So how can leaders “walk the talk” on flexibility? Once they have laid the foundation for the flexibility initiative, there are five key flexible work behaviors leaders should model:

  1. Maintain Visibility

There is often an assumption that being productive equates with being in the office, despite the fact that there are just as many distractions in the office as there are outside of it. Professionals who work remotely need to take proactive steps to counteract this misperception by maintaining their presence and their visibility. Be strategic and take advantage of the days you are physically present to develop relationships, participate in events and spend one-on-one time with colleagues.

 

  1. Communicate Proactively

Stay in touch with your team members, keep tabs on all projects and respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner. Keep in mind, however, that being responsive is not enough. Professionals who work remotely have to be especially proactive with their communications. Supervisors must be more intentional about sharing timely feedback (to avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” tendency) and should be sensitive to the method of delivery of feedback.

 

  1. Be Transparent but Seemless

As a leader working a flexible schedule, it’s important to be accessible. Your team should know how to reach you and should feel comfortable contacting you. Clearly communicate your office hours and make sure you are accessible when you say you are. Make sure someone on your team knows where you are and how to reach you at all appropriate times. Be as transparent as possible about your schedule as it provides your team members with affirmation of their own flexible schedules.

 

  1. Leverage Technology

Make sure you are leveraging all available technologies that enable real-time communication such as chat and messaging features. Additionally, video conferencing should be utilized as often as possible to get face-to-face with your team and create “water cooler moments.” Schedule sharing technologies are useful for sharing real-time availability. While these technologies may seem simple, they can make a meaningful difference in communicating with your team.

 

  1. Be Adaptable

We like to call it “flexible flexibility.” It’s important that you are open to shifting your schedule when needed to fit the needs of your team or clients. Being flexible implies some give and take. In the context of working remotely, this includes demonstrating a willingness to adjust when you need to physically be in the office. It does not, however, mean accepting repeated submission of your schedule to false urgencies or stigmatized views of working outside of the office. To avoid rigidity either way, clearly communicate organizational expectations and work priorities.

 

As Mo Chahdi says “You have to be collaborative and efficient with people you can’t see, and as a leader you have to model this effective collaboration.” Clearly, this new way of collaborating is evolving into a new and improved workplace culture that can reap huge benefits for individuals as well as organizations.

 

Contact Manar Morales for more guidance on flexible work initiatives and how to find your own flex success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on Flex – Adie Olson

Our Spotlight on Flex showcases professionals from member organizations who exemplify personal and professional success while working a flexible schedule. Their stories illustrate the long-term benefits that flexible schedules offer to both individuals and organizations.

For November 2018, we are pleased to share insights from Adie Olson, PartnerQuarles & Brady (Chicago, IL).

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success within your career? How has the firm supported this?

Adie Olson: Law is actually my second career, but my legal career has come full circle with Quarles & Brady. I was a special education teacher and worked with kids with severe emotional and behavioral issues for five years. I loved teaching, but law was always in the back of my mind. I attended Marquette University Law School as an evening student and started as an associate at Quarles & Brady right after graduation in 2003.

I didn’t think I was interested in working at a large law firm, but an adjunct law professor who worked at Quarles, encouraged me to apply for their summer associate program. The firm broke down any stereotypes I had of “big law” at the time; people were really nice, and they had families and lives outside of the office. I knew it was the right place for me, especially as I started my full-time, legal career with them with a six-week old baby at home!

It was pure luck that when I started at Quarles, they were defending a special education class action law suit. I had the substantive background – maybe not the litigation skills (yet) – for a case full of educational acronyms and was able to hit the ground running. I never set out to be a litigator, but things happen for a reason. There is a serendipity aspect to it, but you also have to be open to opportunities that come your way.

I also believe every lawyer should start off as a litigator. You learn about all aspects of a transaction – what went right/wrong, you develop amazing people skills, and you learn how to be a fantastic lawyer. I can be a very intense person, so litigation brought out the best and worst in me at times. By the time I was a fourth year associate, three of my cases went to trial in one year, I was working long days, and I was pregnant with my second child. This was a turning point for me. My career, as exciting as it was, was not sustainable as-is. I knew I wanted to have more time to spend with my growing family.

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Action Step –
The Telecommuters’ Guide to Working Remotely

The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center.

In order to recruit and retain top talent, organizations need to offer flexible work options to stay competitive. One of these options, telecommuting, has increased in use and popularity, and millennials in particular value, desire, and expect the ability to telecommute. As organizations become more global and more employees need to travel and work off-site, telecommuting has moved from a form of flexible work to being a business operations necessity. Organizations are also utilizing telecommuting as a way to cut real estate and overhead costs. When employers provide resources and support to help telecommuters succeed, they set themselves apart in terms of recruitment, retention, and productivity.

Employers should clearly communicate tactics and provide support to help remote workers succeed, both in terms of fostering effective team and individual productivity, as well as long-term career success. But like all forms of flexibility, successful telecommuting is a two-way street. Telecommuters need to: maintain visibility by having an active presence, foster relationships with key sponsors and mentors, be responsive, communicate their workload, proactively solicit feedback, be flexible about schedules, and maintain a professional workspace in order to reduce distractions and maintain focus…

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