Flexible work hours aren’t a productivity-killing perk that startup employers have to stomach to attract the best talent. On the contrary, research has shown that employees in flexible-office environments are healthier, happier and more productive than their more constricted counterparts.
This is why businesses worldwide -- from the smallest startups to corporations as large as Samsung -- are beginning to reap the benefits of flexible work hours. A reflection of this is Fortune's list of the 50 Best Workplaces for Flexibility:
Fortune recently named my company, Acceleration Partners, to the list. That event offered a good reason to write about what makes a flexible workplace great for employee and employer alike, and how leaders can maintain accountability in these environments.
The challenges of flexibility
Entrepreneurs and their employees typically face two major hurdles in achieving flexible environments: offering real flexibility even as they maintain simultaneous accountability.
"Real" flexibility does not mean an occasional perk thrown in the direction of a traditional 9-to-5-office job. Instead, employees are increasingly seeking holistic, flexible environments. And employers should take note: While 67 percent of employers surveyed in one study said they believed their staffs enjoyed proper work-life balance, only 55 percent of their employees concurred.
In short, that discrepancy indicates that some employers are not offering the truly flexible environment their employees seek.
The other hurdle -- accountability -- makes many employers hesitant to adopt flexible practices. They worry that letting employees choose their own hours, take unlimited time off or work remotely may create a rogue or disengaged workforce. But, in reality, as long as leaders create accountability, flexible environments actually benefit companies even more than employees.
Stretching for accountability
Since our company’s inception, we have worked hard to change the work-life paradigm for our team members by aligning flexibility and accountability within a single model.
Our performance-oriented work culture lets employees spend their time with loved ones and on personal pursuits while still engaging in meaningful work. Whether that means they work from home, share a workspace or deviate from the traditional 9-to-5 schedule, we measure their value by performance, not desk hours. To accomplish this, everyone needs to be clear about the goals and what’s expected of them -- at the same time that they're accountable to those outcomes and values.
To make Fortune’s 50 Best Places for Workplace Flexibility list, companies have to offer benefits such as remote work, flexible schedules, shorter work weeks and job-sharing, all while successfully growing and expanding. We’ve succeeded on both the individual and company-wide levels by following the followinge rules to maintain accountability without losing flexibility:
1. 'Strength-train' your company culture. A strong company culture keeps teams moving in the same direction despite the absence of rigid structure. But this has to be carefully thought out: A company without a defined culture and identity opens itself up to the risk of seeing culture cliques develop. And that inevitably leaves people out of important discussions and creates resentment and frustration among team members.
To establish and maintain our own culture, we originally defined our values and mission thoroughly, seeking input from our best performers. We then communicated these values, and now reward them, on a regular basis. To do that, we created a culture deck giving everyone in the company (remote or otherwise) access to a constant reminder of who we are and how our processes and practices align with our core values.
2. Be fanatical about feedback. While you might be convinced that your cultural initiatives are working, how will you know if you never ask your employees? Our own response includes sending weekly surveys to gauge our team members’ feedback on their work lives. We also conduct quarterly check-ins that measure employees on our core values, their top five responsibilities and their quarterly objectives. Our goal is to eliminate any surprises or ambiguity.
One company we know of, Ratio, recently asked its employees whether they understood their goals and the trajectory of their career paths. To its surprise, only 20 percent of respondents said yes. So the company went to work to rectify the problem: After using the information it gathered to revamp its approach to feedback, Ratio saw its "understand goals" number skyrocket to 80 percent within only six months.
3. Focus on guidelines to avoid chaos and foster productivity. Rather than act as a form of "red tape," policies and guidelines can help ensure that everyone is afforded the same benefits and is held to the same standards. We've created easily replicable processes so performance doesn’t suffer or differ, from one remote worker to the next; this ensures that employees know the "AP way."
4. Make the most of video. Perhaps the biggest challenge for a remote workforce is maintaining clear communication. We have a weekly video call to keep everyone updated on both professional and personal matters. Further, we encourage regular video communication to ensure that connections between colleagues stay strong.
Being able to see the visual cues lacking in a phone conversation helps us avoid misunderstandings in both our tone and messaging. Some teams even set up virtual “water cooler” chats, where people set aside time on the calendar to chat about their weekends, recent books read, upcoming vacations and other personal matters.
So, overall, when it comes to flexible work arrangements, don’t believe the detractors. Done right, flexible work environments greatly benefit both the employee and the employer.
Follow these rules to assure that increased flexibility for your own employees sets a foundation of increased productivity for your company.