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How to leverage flexible work to support inclusion in 2021

Flexible work, or hybrid work, is a way of working that suits an employee's needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home. Flexible work is well known for increasing employee retention, boosting career aspirations and productivity, and decreasing absenteeism at work. However, in practice, many employees fear negative career repercussions. Some research revealed that the use of flexibility policies has been shown to result in wage penalties, lower performance evaluations, and fewer promotions. How should employers approach flexible work to support true inclusion in 2021? How can HR leaders, business leaders and professionals encourage all employees to work in ways that allow them to perform at their best without fear of repercussions? This article will share three proven strategies to fully leverage flexible work to support inclusion in 2021.

1. Invest in learning and development for managers

Employers should support their team leaders and managers in learning how to manage flexible work successfully.

The gap in leadership talent is a major obstacle in developing organisations, so investing in learning and development for managers in how to manage flexible work is a key strategy to foster a successful workplace culture. Many leaders are not clear about how to measure performance in hybrid-work. It’s essential to establish a trust-based relationship for flexible work to be successful. Ensure that leaders understand that visibility and presenteeism is not the key to performance. Advise team leaders to set expectations for their team regarding how they expect tasks to be done in flexible work. Train your leaders on how to foster good communication by having regular check-ins with their people. Educate your managers on finding a balance between allowing flexibility and facilitating collaboration in hybrid work. Hire a professional speaker or facilitator who is an expert in inclusive culture to lead your manager training if necessary.

2. Manage team expectations

A Nielsen survey revealed that 47% of working mums think flexible working has affected their career progression; what’s more, 41% of working mums feel their flexible working is not viewed positively by their colleagues and 29% feel discriminated against because of working flexibly.

The fear that many teams feel in association with flexible working is common. Many teams do not adopt flexible working by fear of missing out on promotions, pay rises and career progression opportunities. Employers should review ways of working to optimise team collaboration and relationships in hybrid work and communicate these expectations with different teams. In particular, employers should pay attention to team skills and flexibility. Having teams made of “multi-skilled” employees means that flexible work can be achieved more easily. Employers should also consider sending employees surveys asking them to highlight other skills they have or are interested in developing. Business leaders should also pay attention to team relationships in flexible work. Hybrid work may contribute to a lack of interaction, which could lead to feelings of isolation. Inviting teams to connect using online tools such as Slack and having regular social team gathering will help foster connections in hybrid work. Employers should share positive success stories of flexible work to motivate all teams to adopt flexible work.

3. Address barriers for individuals

According to Deloitte Workplace Flexibility Survey, which surveyed 1,000 U.S. professionals, 94% of employees indicate they would benefit from flexible work options, but 30% also reported that they fear potential consequences to their professional growth, if they tap into remote work, flexible hours and similar arrangements.

As an employer, it is important that you address any psychological barriers your employees may have about flexible work. Your organisation should ensure that employees understand they have flexible working opportunities and you fully support this. Ensure that you communicate with employees often about their option to adopt flexible working when necessary; you could for instance set up groups on communication channels sharing best practices for flexible work such as ideas for working parents. You should also proactively address any career progression concern by sharing success stories of flexible work and offering learning opportunities for remote workers. Share positive flexible working stories from across the organisation to inspire employees to embrace flexible work. It is really important that you help all your employees understand that they are in control of their schedule.

Flexible work offers many great benefits for the organisation and for employees and is a more inclusive way of working. It boosts employee well-being, workers efficiency and business continuity, while also decreasing absenteeism and operating costs. At the same time, many employers, HR professionals and business leaders recognize that flexible work might create some trust issues and fear of repercussion among employees, as well as some discomfort about how to implement it successfully. Following a few, simple strategies can help leverage flexible work to truly support inclusion in 2021 and beyond. Ultimately, employees should feel empowered to control their schedule around their individual needs and organisations should proactively support a positive work environment that supports an inclusive, flexible way of working. If you need help to create a more inclusive workplace environment in hybrid work, contact us here.

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