Flexibility Is The Other ‘F’ Word

Thinking of instituting workplace flexibility as a strategic business move to increase productivity, improve employee attraction/retention, and help with work/life balance (or work/life harmony, integration, or whatever happens to be the phrase of the month)? Think again.

What sometimes begins as a move on the manager’s part to alleviate stress levels, help give employees more control as they’re asked to do more with less, and attract the best talent will quickly morph into a different kind of stress – all of which sits on managers’ shoulders. They’re stuck in a world of managing flexibility (say that aloud and notice how crazy it sounds – “managing” something that’s supposed to be “flexible”?).  

They’re in charge of how it happens, when it happens, where it happens, and who gets it. And not necessarily because it’s what they want to be doing – but if no one takes control of it, how will the work ever get done? 

Flexibility Is The Other ‘F’ Word

It’s disguised itself long enough as something that will help employees and be the ‘perk’ that will catalyze more productivity, higher engagement levels, and overall happiness (in other words, it will stop employees from complaining about how they have no control over the demands of their lives). But flexibility is a trap. Like a shiny object, it takes everyone’s eye off the ball: the results that employees need to achieve in order for organizations to thrive. Experts will try to tell you that you can have both -- be focused on the work and also encourage people to work in a flexible manner. They’ll even tell you that flexibility is a business imperative that you must infuse into your workplace culture in order to get the most out of your people.  But that’s not the way it works. You’re either focused on results or flexibility.  

It’s really quite simple: When flexibility is in the mix, that’s what people think about first. Results come second. They approach it as, “This is the way I want to work.  Now let’s hope I can get everything done this way.”  (Try telling yourself this doesn’t happen and you’re cheating your organization/team out of the results it could be achieving).

When you’re focused on results, however, flexibility manages itself. Employees are always looking at results first (they have to because they know that’s the way they’ll continue getting their paycheck) and then figuring out how to accomplish them. In these situations, they say, “Here’s what I have to achieve.  What’s the best way to do that?”  

Once the word ‘flexibility’ enters the equation, it simply becomes another thing to manage. Leave ‘flexibility’ out of your vocabulary and see how accountability and productivity rise. Just the act of removing the word ‘flexibility’ from your language or redirecting the conversation can be difficult to think about.

In a ROWE, everyone is 100% autonomous and 100% accountable. Everyone is self-governing, independent and answerable, responsible. What does that even mean? It means every employee has the freedom (and trust) to achieve measurable results any way they want as long as those measurable results are delivered.