woman using a copy machine

How to build a flexible work policy to stay competitive and drive productivity

Summary

Employee and business expectations have changed. Position yourself for success with a flexible work policy.

Time: 10 minute read

The pandemic-driven shift to working from home transformed perceptions about how we work. Today, a flexible work policy is essential.
 
In its March 2021 report titled “CIOs Need to Embrace Radical Flexibility to Drive the Post COVID-19 Work Experience,” Gartner described the pandemic’s impact as having “shattered long-held beliefs about the relationships between work environment, productivity and responsibility.” 
 
The report further noted: “In the 2020 Gartner ReimagineHR Client Survey, 90% of HR leaders indicated that they now completely trust employees to work from home, and 75% believe employees are as productive working from home as in the office.” 
 
Perhaps, however, the most telling statistic is that “Workers themselves have embraced this change, with 80% of respondents to the 2020 Gartner ReimagineHR Employee Survey expecting to continue to work away from the employer’s location as needed.”  
 
Less than two years ago, most knowledge workers were office based. Now, the majority expects to be able to work away from the office.

"As needed."

A work from anywhere at anytime business model certainly demands major changes to how CIOs approach technology infrastructures, office set-ups, data security, information and file sharing, collaboration, and disaster recovery.

We appreciate the challenge. Like most companies, much of our workforce has worked from home for more than a year now.

And as a digital office solutions provider, many of our customers turned to us to help them make the adjustment to a fully or a mostly remote workforce. 

The challenge is to make a flexible work policy work for your business. That starts with a little planning and identifying which work model meets the needs of your business, employees, and customers.


What our customers have shared with us about their work and office plans

As the impact of the pandemic became apparent in 2020, we surveyed a cross section of our 1.4 million+ customers to better understand their challenges and needs. Most expected dramatic changes to their work environments.

(Read our article “Top Business Challenges Caused by COVID-19” for the full details.)

For the year 2020, remote work remained the anticipated plan for many well into 2021. The extended period of a remote workforce forced many to revisit how the communicated, shared, and secured their data.

But many businesses needed to return to the office. They faced unique challenges to create a safe and functional work environment, especially with managing meeting room space, reception, and reducing shared surfaces.

Now, as we look ahead in 2021, businesses find four work environments trending.

The 4 trending work environments

Organizations find themselves evaluating how and where employees will work based on these four types of environments:

 

  • Full office. Employees work in the company office daily.

  • Hybrid work. Employees work in an office 2-3 days per week. It could be on a staggered schedule to accommodate safety requirements or simply to allow for office and home office work.
  • Full remote. All work is done at the home office where company gatherings in an office setting are rare.
  • Borderless. Worker’s can work anywhere in the world, never meeting in person.

Across the spectrum of work environments, the first three have been in practice for more than a decade. The fourth is relatively new and deserves a more detailed look.

 

What is the borderless office?

There are two elements to the borderless office: who and where.

The who is the type of worker. In most cases, borderless workers are contractors, freelancers, although sometimes they may be full-time employees.

The where can be anywhere. Borderless workers often work in different regions or even countries. They often have unique schedules, perhaps working a standard workday ten time zones away, or working full time on their own defined schedule. 

Borderless work is the ultimate in a flexible work environment. For many businesses, this represents a very small portion of their workers. Most industry analysts expect that the number will grow.


Three business men meeting

Which work style is right for your business?

Many businesses have discovered that employees are as productive working from home as they were in the office. This revelation has cast into question the need for an office and its associated real estate costs, particularly with the ability of technology like Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 to bring employees together in a secured way that still empowers collaboration, instant communication like you might have in an office, and productivity.

Yet many businesses still need an office. Concerns of employees for safety must be considered. So too, many employees may have that expectation to be able to work from home as needed.

A borderless work environment had its advantages too. Your business instantly has access to all the talent the world has to offer. And in the case of gig workers, they may be willing to trade the freedom to work whenever for full-time benefits. 

Even if your business must be location-based, you likely need to consider adopting an alternative work environment for some of your workers. Employee expectations have changed. You may also find that the top talent you want to hire seeks more flexibility in work schedule or location.

Quite simply, there are many factors to consider as you build a flexible work policy.

 

How to build a flexible work policy

The pandemic sent many employees to work from home. In a way, it forced businesses to adopt a flexible work policy. The practices implemented by sudden need, however, should not be presumed the best for your business.

Even if you have employees working remotely full-time or on a hybrid schedule, you should consider developing a defined policy. This will help current employees to understand expectations and establish guidelines and expectations for new hires.

You can find a lot of different ideas online regarding how to do this. Ultimately, they come down to the following five steps.

 

Start with the business need 

What does your business need? Do you need to have employees onsite? Industries like manufacturing, retail, and medical are only a few examples of industries where some employees need to be onsite regularly. It’s likely that you also have some employees who can perform their tasks offsite. 

Collaboration, team-building, and casual interactions or those “water cooler” moments may also be important to how your business functions. 

As you evaluate need, you should start with the practical, non-negotiable requirements. Then, consider the other aspects of your business, especially how your people interact. Employee expectations is another element to consider – do your employees want to work remotely? 

And finally, is your business configured with the infrastructure needed to make remote work empower collaboration, simplify workflows, and keep your data secured.

Get employee input

The business need must come first. At the same time, you should also find out what your employees want. 

You may find some want to work remotely more; others may prefer the office environment, for any variety of reasons. 

Survey your employees, including those who may not be able to work remotely. Their feedback may inform needs you might not discover if you only speak with those whose job responsibilities allow them the ability to work anywhere.

Identify how people will connect, work, and communicate

There are two elements to this part of the process: infrastructure and work hours.

For the infrastructure, you need to have the technology that enables secured communication, data and document sharing, and productivity tools. Regardless of what you may have done in response to the sudden shutdown of 2020, you should review your current infrastructure and optimize, ideally for seamless integration. 

Work hours are equally important. Workplace flexibility can include flex hours, allowing employees to work at hours convenient to them as they balance personal and work life. At the same time, if your people need to be able to connect or meet regularly, you will need to define specific “office” hours. Individual work may be fine at 9PM in the evening but meetings may not.

Clearly define expectations

Once you have the foundation laid – you know what the business needs, you’ve gotten input from your employees, and you’ve identified how and when you’ll work, it’s time to document the policy.

After you’ve put the policy into writing, present it to your employees in a meeting. Then ensure everyone sees the document. And share it with new employees as they come onboard.

Be flexible

Being flexible doesn’t mean ignoring the guidelines you’ve just created. Rather, it means allow your department heads to take responsibility for the implementation of the policy within their own teams. 

Flexibility can be hard to manage, and the best way an organization can ensure the best customer response and employee experience is to empower managers to coordinate flexibility with their staff.

How to implement your flexible work policy

It’s likely some form of flexible, remote work is now a part of your business, especially after the events of 2020.

Although it may now be a “legacy” practice, or at least expected or desired by employees, you should take the steps to implement a more planned flexible work policy.

Follow these three steps to create a smooth transition to this new work model for everyone in your business.

Plan for change

Change management may be one of the biggest, most important elements an organization can practice to ensure adoption and the smoothest transition to a new work model. 

A change management process is not difficult, though you will benefit most from moving through the process in step-by-step process.
 

You can read more about that process and the three common problems companies face during change in our article, “Change Management and the 3 Most Common Change Management Problems.”

Put the technology in place

Technology stacks can get out of hand quickly when you add new tech as needed. In 2020, that happened a lot and it made sense. For many, staying operational was the goal above all.

Now, however, it may make sense to review what you have, identify the gaps, and implement new solutions to create a seamless, streamlined infrastructure. 
 

Some of the top technology resources to consider:


Cloud

Cloud computing enables access to data and productivity tools wherever your employees are working. There are three types of cloud solutions: 

  • Public, where you use tools hosted by a third-party on their servers.

  • Private, where you stand up your own servers and applications in an offsite data-center.
  • Hybrid, a blend of the two where you use some public cloud applications along with your own private cloud network and applications.

Read more about cloud computing in these articles and whitepapers.

 

Whitepaper: Position yourself for success computing in the cloud

Ebook: Cloud migration guide

Article: Hybrid clouds: an ideal choice for most businesses

Article: 8 benefits of a managed cloud service

 

Data security

In the past, data sat behind your company’s firewall. With your people working and communicating data across internet connections, you need to ensure you have the right security in place to keep your data safe.

Technology plays a big role in data security. Training does too. Your people need to know what to be on the lookout for, especially when it comes to malware like ransomware.

You can read more about data security strategies and solutions in these articles.

Article: Protecting against ransomware attack

Article: Why small business must get serious about information security

Article: Growing your enterprise data security ecosystem

Document Management

How will your people share and communicate documents? 

Paper documents and workflows don’t work well with distributed workforces. The only real answer is digital documents. Using digital documents doesn’t entirely solve the problem. 

Email can get challenging, at least for managing the different versions. It can also expose your documents to security risks. And then there is the issue of who has the most current document.

Centralized document management keeps all of your documents in one place. It also tracks the different versions, ensuring you can track changes and maintain an auditable chain-of-custody for every document, which helps to meet compliance requirements. Many document management systems also include workflow capabilities. Your documents stay in one place, but your processes move at the speed of the click.

Find out more about document management systems and solutions in these articles.

Webinar: Document management for an agile workforce

Article: An introduction to cloud document management

Article: What is enterprise content management

Solution: DocuWare

Productivity tools

There are really two questions to consider when looking at the tools your employees use.

  • Are they up to date?
  • Do they work (well) with a workforce that may or may not be in the office at the same time?

You could add a third as well – does the technology we’re using meet our security needs?

Microsoft Office tools, now called Microsoft 365™, may be a standard in business, but it may be worth considering whether you have the best setup and are using them to their fullest. 

Of course, you may still need to print. And how will you capture data on paper documents or convert those documents to digital format. A lot of our processes have gone digital, but not all. 

One of the best places to start to evaluate productivity are the data and document entry points. This includes software productivity tools for your PCs, laptops, tablets, and smart devices. It can also include the applications you run on your multifunction devices and printers, especially in offices where these devices continue to play a big role in day-to-day operations.

Seamlessly integrated and automated applications will keep your employees the most productive as they will not face compatibility issues and inefficiencies moving from one system to another.

See how Microsoft 365 can work for you.

 

Communication tools

Videoconferencing is a well-known need, and you should explore your full range of options. Some systems may eliminate the need for a phone on every desk.

Communication isn’t all about talking and seeing each other though. Collaboration on documents and different media still needs to be done across the distances. Communication tools like interactive flat panel displays (IFPDs) driven by collaborative applications can enhance communications for your employees, vendors and customers.

See how we helped Hendricks Motorsports improve collaboration

Learn more about IFPDs

Adapt

As the business environment continues to change, you will need to be able to adapt. Even if it doesn’t change dramatically, you should still build metrics and activity reporting into your plan. 

You will want to review your successes and identify where you can improve. 
 

You can stay competitive and grow with a flexible work policy

For many businesses, the pandemic created an instant remote workforce, and by extension a flexible work practice. The practice prompted by the pandemic, however, may not be the best policy. Over a year, many businesses have smoothed out the process.

That doesn’t mean a work policy shouldn’t be defined. As we look ahead, employees will come and go. While the policy may stay as employees, especially new hires, will be looking for (or expecting) a flexible work environment, businesses should take the initiative and review their needs to understand which work environment will work best for them – and then define it. This will set clear expectations for all current and new employees.

A result of the pandemic is that employers have found their employees can be as effective and productive working from home as in the office. You may even find a flexible work policy makes you even more competitive as you attract top talent.

The key to a successful work policy is to define it, and then, be flexible. 



 

Have questions about how to implement a flexible workplace?

 
 

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