Ideas for Introducing Team Flexibility

woman with a laptop working from home smiling
woman with a laptop working from home smiling

In the first part of this post, I discussed the point that workplace flexibility is worthwhile and sustainable only when both the employer and employee mutually benefit from the program. And that we have a ways to go in removing the tag of "mommy issue" from flexibility. Flexibility is a business strategy engaging the entire workforce and not just a particular employee segment. When we frame flex work options as mom- or family-centered, we risk growing resentment among the rest of our workforce and deflecting the overall benefits alternative work options afford a company.

While becoming more widely available, our next step is to apply flexibility and other progressive work options more broadly across our organizations and employee populations. The process does not have to be overwhelming. Here we share some specific ideas and examples from organizations that have already found success in implementing a program.

Publish an equitable policy.
One educational institution historically known for technological innovation is also taking a progressive stance in the workplace flexibility arena. The MIT Center for Work, Family and Personal Life created "A Guide to Flexibility at MIT" for its managers and employees. The document outlines a fair framework for the MIT employee community at large. Concise guidelines are provided for both employees seeking alternative work arrangements and the managers considering their requests.

For example, the policy states, "All proposals should be treated equitably, regardless of the employee's reason for requesting flexibility." MIT has broadened the needs to "personal" rather than "family." Collaborative initiatives like this send a clear internal message that flexibility is not just a parent issue.

Acknowledge the unique needs of all team members.
Whether you conduct a formal survey or meet informally with associates, it is important to understand the ideal work situation for each individual. Don't assume that a working parent needs flexibility or that an unmarried Baby Boomer is okay with a traditional work schedule. Likewise, don't promise changes that might not work for the team overall. Take inventory of what personal influences may or may not affect performance at work.

Engage the entire team.
Once you understand the individual needs of the team, consider the team's requirements as a whole. Productivity and equitable treatment of all employees must be evaluated before implementing any type of workplace flexibility program. Be transparent and find creative solutions that cover the business essentials without overloading any team members.

At Mom Corps, we manage a group calendar where we include our personal as well as our work appointments. This way we can manage all aspects of our day whether that involves needing to be out for a spouse's surgery, speaking at an industry conference, leaving town for Spring Break, or being unavailable during a business presentation. We schedule our standing meetings to accommodate the majority, avoiding early or late start times, and Mondays and Fridays. We evaluate the situation quarterly to make sure all team members feel they are being treated equitably, that clients' needs are being met, and that the business continues to run smoothly. Sometimes decisions are difficult, and as individuals we must make work-life reparations in the name of the business and each other. But we acknowledge that flexibility is in itself an elevated level of teamwork and well worth the effort to perpetuate it.

The concept of work option flexibility can take on many forms. To help ensure effective adoption, organizations should test and implement programs as it makes sense for their particular industry, work structure and overall company culture. Be completely transparent with your workforce. If you are launching a test, for example, be clear on that fact to avoid disastrous morale issues down the line. Also, know that if you broach the subject of flex options, there may be no turning back, so make sure the organization is committed at least in some way.

Allison O'Kelly is founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a national professional staffing firm with a focus on flexible work. Launched in 2005, Mom Corps has helped champion the view that flexibility is a benefit to not only professionals but to the companies that employ them. More may be found at, @AllisonOKelly and @MomCorps.