Implementing Flexibility

From: Benefits

Implementing Flexibility


It is often best to begin flexibility on a small scale or through a pilot program. If successful, the program can be expanded if the employer or manager and the employees are comfortable with the arrangement. For example, in a telecommuting arrangement, an employer may choose to begin with one or two telecommuters working from home one or two days a week and gradually build from that point, if appropriate. Start with a low-risk trial program.

Employers may elect to survey managers about their flexibility needs and pilot a program with the management group. The pilot could help identify and address challenges. In starting small, or with a pilot, a flexible arrangement can be more easily assessed for its effectiveness and modifications can be made on a more manageable scale.

Workplace Culture

A written policy may be one indicator as to whether a firm or organization is committed to workplace flexibility, but a key determinant is the culture — where flexibility is embraced at the highest levels with processes and policies in place to accommodate and encourage flexibility. An employer may implement the appropriate policies and processes present, but the business case for flexibility exists when the principals are embraced by the highest level of the organization and managers speak the language of flexibility, accommodation, and inclusion. For example, an organization may offer guidance and support for employees seeking a flexible work arrangement through workplace programs that encourage employees to create proposals enabling them to work from home on a regular basis.

A culture of flexibility can be demonstrated in multiple ways — processes, policies and other tools. More significantly, authentic support at the highest levels creates a fertile environment for flexibility because employees feel comfortable discussing and using flexibility without repercussion, and a consistent approach and attitude toward flexibility is represented throughout the organization.

Evaluating Employee Proposals for Flexibility

Flexible options should not be implemented merely for flexibility’s sake. It is important to determine creative ways to get the job done that support business priorities while meeting the needs of employees. Organizations that provide employees with guidance or support in proposing flexible work arrangements may have better outcomes in creating positive and lucrative results. Such support and engagement also helps to ensure that all parties are likeminded with respect to understanding what is being requested and how proposals parallel business goals and priorities, or potential restrictions in granting the full request.

For example, an employer may implement a request process that includes both of the following:

  • A form that leads the employee through a series of questions to help describe the proposed work arrangement, and how it will sustain or enhance the employee’s ability (and the team’s) in accomplishing business objectives.
  • Providing management with positive guidance in terms of assessing employee proposals.

Alternatively, an employer may institute an employee task force as an effective model that leads to an organic solution in assessing flexibility. Such initiatives may help redesign jobs or how work is done, leading to improvement in actual results. Since more people are requesting flexibility as a pre-condition for employment, business owners and managers can also think more proactively about positions they post, for example:

  • Can the job be done on a flexible basis?
  • Would a compressed workweek, telecommuting, part-time or job-share arrangement work for this position?

Thinking proactively, tapping into the team and providing employees with guidance and support when they propose working flexibly can lead to better outcomes for the organization.


A new workplace flexibility policy may easily be communicated to the entire organization through company email that highlights the fundamentals of the new flexible work options policy, an all-hands meeting, and/or a community website that provides the full policy, forms, and accessible copies of all released communications. Managers and supervisors should also be specifically notified of the policy and their role in the process. Employees should be encouraged to speak with their supervisor and/or contact the appropriate human resources representative if they are interested in exploring potential flex-time options.

Tools to Get Started

Manager Tips: Fundamentals of Creating a Flexible Workplace

The following are basic tools to help managers create more flexible workplaces:

  • Create a business proposal approach. Design a process where employees submit a proposal describing how their work will be accomplished, how they will maintain or improve productivity, and the impact their request will have on various aspects of the business. (For requests for occasional flexibility, a formal business plan may not be necessary.)
  • Establish a review process. Review all requests for flexibility submitted by employees. Some requests will not be implemented due to the nature of a job, staffing needs, customer/client constraints, or employee performance. If the proposed arrangement is unworkable for business reasons, brainstorm and consider other options.
  • Consider an employee’s performance. Employees who have not demonstrated strong self-management skills and high levels of dependability are typically not the best candidates to work a flexible arrangement. However, keep in mind that there will be some situations when flexibility is exactly what an employee might need to resolve a personal issue that has affected their job performance.
  • Involve the team. Prior to approving an arrangement, ask the employee to share their proposal with team members, discuss any issues, and brainstorm solutions.
  • Clearly outline expectations. Discuss performance expectations, including work accomplished, communication, and attendance at meetings, with the employee prior to commencing the arrangement. Ensure that the focus will be on the employee’s work performance, consistency of contribution, and results — not face time.
  • Conduct frequent reviews. Treat the new arrangement as a pilot for three to six months. Establish measurements and review the success of the arrangement at regular intervals.

Employee Tips: Considering a Flexible Work Arrangement

The following is a brief overview of employee tips and considerations that may be helpful to incorporate into an employee’s workplace flexibility guidelines and request process. Some employers create self-assessment and business proposal forms to guide employees through questions to consider as they develop their proposals for workplace flexibility. These tools help ensure that the request meets the needs of the employee and the demands of business.

Employee Self-Assessment

The first step to requesting a flexible work arrangement is for an employee to consider their work style and think about why they want to work flexibly. Employees with the best chance for success are those with a history of good performance at work and strong self-management skills such as:

  • Taking initiative.
  • Using sound judgment when making decisions.
  • Meeting deadlines.
  • Managing multiple priorities effectively.
  • Listening well.
  • Communicating clearly.
  • Organizing work effectively.

Depending on each employee’s personal situation, they may also need to consider any impact that workplace flexibility will have on their dependent care responsibilities and expenses, household finances, and benefits coverage.

Employee Proposal

Upon completion of a personal assessment, an employee’s next step is to develop a business proposal to present to a manager demonstrating how the employee will sustain or enhance their job performance. Formal business proposals may not be required for every type of flexible option — or for occasional or ad hoc schedule or workplace changes. Employees should verify with the appropriate manager the type of proposal required for their specific workplace.

Proposal Considerations

Employees should consider the following when preparing a proposal for a flex-time option:

  • What type(s) of flexible work arrangement(s) are you interested in? How long do you plan to work the arrangement(s)? What hours and days are you proposing to work and from what location(s)?
  • Are there specific hours and days that you must be present at work in order to accomplish your job responsibilities? Does your proposed flexible option accommodate these?
  • Can you complete all of your current job responsibilities while working a flexible schedule? What adjustments, if any, will you need to make to accomplish your work?
  • How will you continue to meet deadlines and be available for critical situations that may arise on the job?
  • What are the anticipated benefits and challenges of this new arrangement with regard to your ability to get the job done and the impact on your internal and external customers, employees (if you are a supervisor/manager), co-workers, manager, and the company?
  • Will working a flexible arrangement allow you to accomplish your short- and long-term career goals? If yes, how? If no, have you considered adjusting your goals?
  • How — and when — will you and your manager assess the effectiveness of your arrangement?
  • If you supervise a team of employees, how will you ensure you are available to meet their needs? How will you manage differently if you are on a flexible schedule?
  • How will your communications with your team, co-workers, managers, and customers differ once you are on a flexible schedule?

Upon presentation of a business plan, employees should be ready to work with their manager to fine-tune the plan, suggest other options, and prepare for implementation. Employees and managers should discuss and fully understand all expectations related to the employee’s performance and communication. Additionally, a determination should be made as to how the arrangement will be measured. For example, how will the employee know the arrangement is successful? Success may be determined by asking for and listening to feedback from your colleagues, manager, and customers/clients.

Manager Tips: Reviewing and Implementing an Employee’s Proposal

While reviewing an employee’s proposal, a manager should be open to discuss requests for additional flexibility and consider all alternatives, not just the one the employee initially proposes. If the initial proposal does not meet business needs, managers may discuss what modifications might result in an acceptable solution.

Managers must also ensure the employee’s proposal addresses how all responsibilities will be met or exceeded and includes contingency plans. For example, a manager should:

  • Discuss any impact on the team and customers/clients and define techniques to ensure ongoing communication and to measure success.
  • Involve team members. Team members should review the proposal with the employee before it is presented to the manager. This permits co-workers to express any concerns and offer solutions. Additionally, if employee requests overlap or otherwise conflict, individuals should be encouraged to work together to develop alternative solutions.
  • Discuss with the employee about how a particular flexible work arrangement fits into their short- and long-term career goals.

Importantly, work-life conflict may be a contributing factor to poor performance. Managers must be sure to address the performance issues up front before considering a flexible arrangement.

Job Expectations

Defining job expectations is crucial when discussing a flex-option work plan. The following elements should be reviewed and clarified prior to entering the plan:

  • Identification of work requirements that cannot be changed, such as coverage during certain hours.
  • Identification of workgroup requirements, such as defining core business hours when all employees are at work.
  • Establishing measurable goals and objectives.
  • Specifying with the employee regarding how management will handle certain business requirements to avoid misunderstandings, such as:
    • Regular team meetings where attendance is mandatory. Is participation by conference call an option?
    • Informal communication with employee. When will email suffice?
    • Business travel requirements.
    • Face-to-face customer/client interaction.
    • Regular phone coverage, if necessary.
    • Extended hours during peak business cycles (budget time).
    • Availability to customers/clients and co-workers.

Modifying the Proposal

Managers who are undecided after reviewing an employee’s proposal may consider the following options:

  • Identify specific concerns and discuss them candidly with the employee.
  • Involve the employee (and the team, as appropriate) to identify solutions.
  • Consider different hours or days, or combine approaches/options.
  • Pilot the arrangement for 90 days or another definite timeframe.
  • Implement the arrangement at a later date when business conditions change.

Implementing an Arrangement

Upon implementation, managers may also want to consider piloting the flex-time arrangement to ensure employees understand expectations and understand that the arrangement will be evaluated on an ongoing basis. For example, blackout periods (where the flex-time option is not available) must be defined and communicated to employees.

Importantly, management demonstrates support for flexibility by introducing the arrangement to the team, describing any changes to the work process, and encouraging ongoing open discussion and feedback.

Reviewing an Arrangement

When reviewing the arrangement, management should:

  • Evaluate the arrangement frequently, starting with 30, 60, and 90 day reviews.
  • Review whether goals are being met in a timely manner and if productivity is being maintained.
  • During the reviews, discuss any specific issues, including the ability to complete assigned work, communications, effect on co-workers and customers/clients, and technology.

Ending an Arrangement

Flexible work arrangements are not perpetually tied to a position or employee. If business and/or personal needs change, the arrangement may be modified or ended by the employee or manager. However, this process must be communicated and in certain situations, an employee may have to wait until vacancies occur to return to a previous work schedule or work location.