Flexible working - what should organisations and leaders consider?

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Published: October, 2021

As we are now moving into a new era with Covid-19 likely to remain a challenge and concern to us all for the foreseeable future, organisations and leaders have been spending time, energy and resources in determining what this means in relation to ways of working for their business and employees going forward. For both their shorter and longer-term plans.

Many employees are looking at organisations to continue to offer more flexibility in the way they are able to work. A number of organisations have also been and are continuing to embrace new and more flexible ways of working and are, without a doubt, seeing the benefits in doing so.

The benefits of embracing more flexible working practices

Embracing flexibility undoubtedly brings numerous benefits such as increasing employee engagement, productivity, commitment and loyalty, thereby reducing absenteeism and presenteeism. It also enables organisations to better retain high performing talent and attract potential new employees from a wider talent pool.

Research published in March 2021 by the Government-backed Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and the jobs website Indeed showed that jobs with clear flexible working options could attract up to 30% more applicants than those that did not. Their research also found that 9 out of 10 jobseekers want increased flexibility, be it remote working (60%), flexitime (54%) or reduced hours (26%).

 The challenges of embracing more flexible working practices

Whilst there are many benefits it can also bring its challenges given that not one organisation or employee is the same!

Some organisations need all or most of their employees on site to carry out their activities whilst others have the ability to embrace more flexible working practices.

Employees all have a variety of commitments to balance and juggle such as childcare, school runs, caring and doggie day care responsibilities. All of us need and benefit from a balance between work and personal life. We also have differing and preferred ways of working: some individuals, like me, feel energised by interactions with others and miss being in an office/work environment interacting socially with colleagues, whilst others get their energy internally and enjoy working alone.

A one-size-fits-all approach to embracing more flexible ways of working in this ever-changing world is therefore impossible!

Why should organisations consider leaders “soft skills”?

So, for organisations who are intending to embrace flexible working for the first time, what should they be thinking about, beyond the practical considerations such as ensuring the right technology is in place as well as any additional health and safety provisions?

In my experience, the introduction of flexible working can bring unique challenges to those that lead teams. As a result, organisations need to think about further developing leaders’ “soft skills”. To support them in building their confidence and capability in successfully leading teams of people who may not all be in the same place at the same time. Leading remote and hybrid working teams is, for many leaders, often more challenging and requires more focus, time and care.

Strong leaders will need qualities such as resilience, emotional intelligence and visible leadership, both physically and virtually. They will need to take time to build a strong team that is based on trust, openness and honesty to ensure results are achieved successfully and to develop and maintain a high performing team. Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is a particularly helpful (and my ‘go to’) model, for supporting leaders with this new way of working. If you haven’t read his book then I would definitely recommend doing so.

Leaders of flexible or hybrid teams will also benefit from developing their skills in empathic listening, (see my blog on “why should you be an empathic listener?”). This involves listening carefully, with empathy and patience, and demonstrating understanding and a lack of judgement in order to build deeper relationships with their teams. And trust me when I say that for many (myself included) this takes practice!

Leaders will also need to ensure that they are well equipped to communicate effectively, in a timely manner. To do so having an understanding and appreciation of the individual and team dynamics, skills and competencies will be crucial. To be able to clearly explain your vision, individual and team requirements and to bring your teams with you on the journey takes time, organisation and planning. Communicating this effectively requires leaders to understand the most appropriate and preferred ways and timings in which to communicate with and engage with their teams.

How can organisations support the development of leaders “soft skills”?

In my experience, in order to achieve all of the above, leaders must first be self-aware. They need to recognise that each person is unique with different personality preferences, styles of working and approaches, and this must begin with them understanding their own.

Once a leader understands their own personal style this then enables them to recognise and appreciate that of their teams and to adapt their style accordingly. This self-awareness enables them to make better connections and engage with their teams more effectively on both an individual and a collective basis. For those that haven’t already discovered their own personality preference, there are a number of extremely helpful psychometric assessments available that support with this.

My personal preference is Insights Discovery (I’m a licensed practitioner) which is based on the psychology of Carl Jung. Insights Discovery is a simple and memorable four colour energy model that provides a common language about what drives behaviour in the workplace, enabling us to understand why we behave the way we do, our preferred style and strengths, and the value we bring to a team. Ultimately this enables both leaders and individuals to perform at their highest level by improving their understanding of themselves and their teams so that they can have more respectful, productive and positive working relationships.

So, in summary to be a truly effective leader in today’s world, having the technical ability is simply not enough. Leaders must also have strong leadership competencies. It’s simple – success relies on people and a leader has one key goal; to get the best out of people and to empower those people to get the best out of themselves.

I hope you have found this interesting and thought provoking, if you would like to find out more you can contact me at katie@vitalisehrsolutions.co.uk or call me on 07990 916350.

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