In celebration of Flexible Working Day today, 10th of June, our CEO Alex Burke was asked to share his top five tips for managing flexible working with the EP team.

Here are his top five tips, published on The Big Smoke.

The top 5 tips for best practice in flexible work arrangements

There’s never been a better time for raising awareness about the benefits of flexible working arrangements. Today, Wednesday 10 June 2020 is Flexible Working Day: an international day to celebrate and showcase the benefits of flexible work for both people and organisations.

With vast numbers of professionals now working remotely or from home, a steep learning curve has been needed for staff and management to get across not only the technical processes, but also the skills required to better adjust to the absence of personal contact with management and colleagues when undertaking flexible work processes. 

As the CEO of an EdTech company, Education Perfect (EP), which specialises in online learning technology for schools, work and the home, I have a rare insight into how to make the transition smoother for all levels within a company. 

I’d recommend the following five easy steps to make the transition to flexible, remote and at-home working more successful.

  1.   Make sure you check in.

There are many factors contributing to the increased numbers of people undertaking flexible working arrangements. It’s important we understand how each individual is feeling about the situation. 

For some (flexible working) is a perk which is a nice to have, while for others it is absolutely essential to execute their daily work. It’s important we understand the difference, and in doing that listen to what people need, and understand what you can do to help each individual.

Staying socially and emotionally connected at this time couldn’t be more important. A call for a quick hello or check-in can be really powerful. 

Companies and managers need to make sure their people are OK. Your care needs to extend beyond what has been the traditional, transactional nature of simply ‘getting the job done’, to a more targeted, focussed approach to connecting people. 

It’s through bringing people together that they can all be a part of the single conversation. Too often people are biased towards a one-to-one form of messaging, when it’s far more efficient and effective to get all appropriate people looped into the single conversation.

  1.   Know that adjustment takes time.

The process of adjustment for learning to navigate new technology and work processes also needs to be considered. Everyone working remotely for the first time needs to know that the process may be smoother for some than for others. It’s a question of levelling the playing field.

It’s really tough being the one remote person in a meeting with the rest of the group together in a room. The dynamics are awkward, with a lack of visibility for faces, as well as the tensions that potentially arise from a lack of social cues.

One key factor, operating within a more ‘all-in’ or inclusive virtual environment, will make all the difference. 

Getting everyone to have a laptop with camera on, being in ‘gallery’ mode on Zoom/Meet instead of switching single focus between speakers can make a world of difference.

  1.   Clarity and feedback: more important than ever.

The lack of face-to-face, direct contact within teams is also something that needs time for people to adjust to. The key to this is based around a solid foundation of communications. This is something that needs to be coordinated from management-on-down.

Simple, regular, transparent communications are important from management. Managing a remote team means that expectations need to be very clear between manager and their report, and a fairly well communicated task list. With less chance for in-passing check-ins to raise concerns, tensions and strains, as it is easy to overload people.

  1.   Don’t overload with meetings.

Speaking of overloading… In the wider business world, there has been – since the onset of coronavirus and remote working – a noticeable up-kick in phone calls and online meetings, to stem the gap left by there being less ad-hoc discussions and office interactions. 

While staying connected is important, it’s of equal importance that management don’t overload people with meetings. Recognise the importance of a sustained period of time devoted to simply getting stuff done. 

  1.   Mix it up.

Getting out from behind the screen is crucial. Add some variety to the proceedings by doing different things, like taking meetings walking-and-talking, doing a bit of creative work with pen-and-paper or post-its. I do weekly video updates to keep the whole EP team in the loop and monthly all-staff zoom calls where different teams give an update to maintain connection and full transparency. It is a mix of business focus and light hearted celebration of the work the team is doing. The style is very open and transparent, with the odd joke thrown in. 

We also held an ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) hour on Slack where the team could ask the leadership group any questions or concerns, especially with changes to working through COVID-19. It is a really great way to empower the individual to have a voice, encourage new ideas and a safe place to make suggestions. Everyone was really engaged and I learnt a thing or two from the team.

Flexibility is really important and many Managers are realising the 9-5 traditional office role with long commuting times isn’t the most effective use of time. Businesses need to start to have an open mind and empower their employees to strike the right balance between productivity and social interaction.

It’s an adjustment period, and one to which many of us are finding ourselves involved, to varying degrees of willingness and enthusiasm. However with a few of the above considerations in mind, transition can be less taxing, and an easier process to which we can all adjust and hopefully have a more productive and enjoyable flexible working experience.