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How to Keep Employees Engaged in a Flexible Work Environment

How to Keep Employees Engaged in a Flexible Work Environment

Do you ever take a moment to look around your office? Or perhaps around the offices of your clients or partner companies? Today's workplace has come a long way. The image of our parents' office space - that 9-to-5, desk-laden typing pool - is a thing of the past. Technology has guided the emergence of innovative workplaces where working hours and job location are entirely flexible. It is increasingly common for employees to perform their jobs without being physically present in the office.

How does this shift impact your management practices? Can you keep your team focused on delivering key results? Like most business problems, the solution lies in effective leadership.

Keeping team members focused on the results requires a dynamic, energetic management style that empowers employees, focuses their abilities and drives a productive environment. As your workplace becomes more flexible, focus on these priorities to keep your team on track.

Enhance Your Communications

Communication is key in any leadership function so make sure you: 

Communicate constantly - In a flexible environment, it's important to take some extra time to communicate frequently. People are not together all the time, so keep them involved through frequent communication.

Look for meaningful communications opportunities - Workplace flexibility means some of the more traditional communications routines may not be available. For example, you may not be able to informally "pop-in" at someone's workstation to ask about work.

By the way, popping in at someone's workstation has always been a good management practice for keeping things informal and communicative. However, stay away from the standard question: "How's it going?"

Why? Because people usually say, "It's fine," which doesn't get to the bottom of what's happening. Try more probing questions such as "What obstacles are you seeing on this project?"

Use technology - Communication may be personalized, but everyone must have the same overall goals. Use technology to keep everyone connected and on the same page.

  • Make sure your people have mobile devices so you can communicate and collaborate constantly
  • Use a document-sharing application such as Google Docs to share materials among team members and avoid "version control" issues
  • Use a collaborative task manager to share tasks
  • Use a shared digital calendar

Use a personal touch - In a flexible environment, manager-employee relations should be more personalized. Personal touch does not mean touchy-feely instead of focused. It means that each person's working environment is different, and the management relationship should reflect the working arrangement. There cannot be a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

Frankly, a sophisticated leader will do this already, recognizing that everyone on the team has different skills and personalities. A strong manager already uses specific techniques to connect with individuals and motivate them to perform their best. In an environment where people feel connected, they should also feel like part of a team, even if they may be working remotely.

Establish Routines

The work environment may be flexible, but it can still revolve around recurring "touch base" sessions that bring people together for collaboration and team building.

  • Scheduled check-ins. People working remotely may prefer to conduct their work at 3 p.m., and that's fine, but a scheduled weekly check-in is still important to keep the communication open, get a status update on progress, and keep things from falling through the cracks.
  • Team meetings. If people are working remotely, then use Skype to give them the live, interactive experience.

Empower Employees

Empowering employees means developing self-motivated people who take ownership of their roles and drive productivity. It is fundamental to any successful business, but it is particularly important as your workforce becomes more flexible. 

Empowerment requires a special management effort, focusing on:

  • Managing goals and outcomes, not tasks
  • Giving people ownership of decision-making
  • Rewarding excellence
  • Modelling the behaviours you aim to see

Each of your people is working on his or her own schedule. However, if their hearts and minds remain connected to the overall goals, then success is much more achievable.

Looking Ahead

Workplaces in all industries are becoming more flexible. Keeping your team on track requires effective leadership and collaborative technologies.

How has flexible working affected your company? What strategies have you implemented to make your team feel engaged and motivated?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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