My day job is demanding. It requires travel, overtime, lots of intellectual horsepower, networking, and emotional energy. I work hard. And yet, because of the amount of autonomy and control I have over my schedule, my level of discretionary effort and engagement drives me to work even harder. I don’t have to get “approval” for the hours I work—I just need to make sure I get the work done. So on certain days, like today, that means taking the morning off to be with my child’s class, and working later into the evening. I don’t have to get “approval” for my travel schedule. As recently as yesterday I was faced with a possible trip. My boss’s response to me was “trust your gut” on whether or not I had to make the trip. I’ve never heard “make this trip or you will lose your job.” In fact, I’ve more often heard “family comes first.” As a result, I don’t mind traveling, and am where I need to be—whether it’s at work or at home—when I need to be there.
I’ve given my direct reports this same autonomy and control over their schedule as well. Yes, there is usually a “prove yourself” period, but communication during that period is open, and that time is more about letting me see how someone works versus micromanaging (the enemy of productivity and creativity!) the time they are sitting at their desks. My previous team, which had zero turnover for years, stated that flexibility was one of the main drivers of retention and engagement on our team. There was even a waiting list of people who were interested in joining us.
Giving people autonomy and control over their schedule doesn’t mean that you’re soft or have lower expectations. Quite the opposite actually. My direct reports will tell you that I expected a lot from them—because they were smart, talented, and engaged. I just truly believe that, in order for them to deliver to their full potential, they had to have some control over when and how they worked. Personal energy cycles can influence output (see related blog post regarding this topic). What’s going on at home can also affect output. If I had chosen to sit at my desk this morning, the truth is I would have not been fully present. I would have been distracted and thinking about the kindergarten picnic. So instead of leaking energy through anxiety, guilt and worry, I made the decision to be where I wanted to be. And the gratitude I felt for working for a boss and a company that celebrates that flexibility drive up my productivity and engagement when I sat down at my laptop later this afternoon.
Employers and managers, I challenge you to reframe your perspective on flexible schedules. If you want to fully engage your employees, let them be with their families. Here are some tips on how to promote that:
- Verify your company’s policy on flexible schedule arrangements. If it doesn’t have one, find out why not and see if you can work to create one.
- Set clear expectations with your team on what “flexible schedule” means for your specific team. Does it mean picking a day to work from home? Does it mean an alternative work week? Or does it mean that you leave it up to each person to work the hours they want/need to work, as long as the work gets done?
- Clearly define the “must be present” calls and meetings. There are some mandatory meetings and calls. Our weekly team status call, for example, is one of them. Don’t assume people will know what they are. Confirm that they do, and reinforce your expectation that people be there.
- Clarify when permission is needed. People might not realize when they need to ask for permission and when they can exercise flexibility with formal approval. Some people will ask for every break or change in schedule. In some cases, that may be required. In other cases, people will assume permission and not ask for it at all. Do yourself and your team a favor and set the parameters of flexibility, and specify when “exceptions” need to be approved.
- Communicate how you will communicate flexibility. It is pretty hard to work when you don’t know whether people are available or not. There are many simple ways to communicate flexibility—such as blocking out unavailable times on your calendar, having a “team schedule/calendar”, and sending an email for one-off occurrences. Determine what works best for your team and set the expectation that everyone follow that process.
You don’t have to be a manager to leverage these tips. If you’re craving flexibility and don’t yet have it, it may not be because your manager is against it. Perhaps you haven’t clearly asked for it (see blog post on the power of asking). Perhaps the thought has crossed his/her mind but there hasn’t been time to think about it. Take control of your own destiny and come up with a proposal to share with your boss. This will not only help you, but could help your entire team—many people prefer flexible schedules, regardless of whether or not they have kids. (There are books on the Recommended Reading that can help you come up with the proposal).
Kindergarten is over for my family. I’m so glad and grateful that I got to be present for it. In fact, I’m so grateful that I think I’m going to put in some extra hours this week….