Business is undergoing rapid changes due to several different factors. Technological advancement and globalization are changing the way we do business, as are the changing values of the millennial generation. Over the last couple of years, I’ve implemented many changes in my own business in response to these larger trends. In the process I’ve learned quite a bit, not only about what does and doesn’t work, but also how to navigate some of the challenges of introducing these changes in the workplace.
Flexible Work Schedules
By now it’s well-known that many businesses, especially those run by younger people, are abandoning the traditional 9-to-5 work schedule. In an age where people can communicate instantly via smartphone, Skype and various online messaging programs and share files using platforms such as Dropbox, there’s no longer a need for everyone to be physically present in an office for a fixed number of hours.
This is an example of the type of change that, intuitive as it is, can still be challenging to implement. My own business began with a mostly traditional work schedule: we didn’t necessarily have a 40-hour work week, but employees were expected to complete most of their tasks in the office. This is simply the way most people still expect a workplace to function. Even millennials who grew up with the Internet most likely took business classes in college, watched movies that portrayed traditional offices and perhaps visited parents and other relatives at work. For these reasons, there are still cultural expectations about work that will take time to change.
In many cases, I’ve found it’s simply more efficient for everyone for employees to work from home or on the road, checking in whenever necessary. But making this transition was not exactly seamless — it’s essential to set some firm ground rules about being accountable and reporting back to the office regularly.
The Benefits of an Office
It’s possible to run a business nowadays with no central office at all. The contemporary wisdom is that you can work from your laptop from anywhere in the world. I too considered the idea of making my business completely non-local; as an experiment, I ran operations for a month without anyone coming to work in person.
While the results were not catastrophic, I felt that something was lost. When people only connect with you when they have a specific reason, you lose some of the nuanced communications you get when you see them more frequently. There are advantages to having a physical office that serves as the company’s headquarters. Even socializing plays a role in forming a more cohesive team unit.
If you’re considering implementing a remote work option, start out new employees on a regular schedule where they have to be in the office a certain number of hours (not necessarily 40) each week. This helps them acclimate to the business and gets them socialized with everyone who already works there.
Tips for Making the Workplace More Flexible
How do you decide when it’s time to implement more flexibility in the workplace? While you have to use your own judgment and intuition based on your own situation, there are some guidelines that can be applied:
- Focus on accomplishments over hours. The old paradigm was about putting in a certain number of hours. Today, business owners are seeing that what really counts is what employees accomplish during that time.
- Aim for balance. Rather than seeing a stark contrast between traditional and flexible workplaces, try to balance the two. While a rigid 9-to-5 schedule may be obsolete, there are still benefits to having people come into the office regularly.
- Ask for feedback. Some people actually prefer a regular schedule; it helps them stay focused. Others prefer more flexibility. Try to come up with a system that takes everyone’s needs into account.
- Find the best tools for staying in touch. In an age when employees are likely to be working remotely, it’s important to have convenient ways for people to stay in touch. Platforms such as Skype, Google Hangouts and HipChat are good for messaging and conferencing, while Dropbox and Google Docs are good for file sharing. There are many other choices, but it’s imperative that you have efficient ways for everyone to collaborate remotely.
Every business is unique and has to find its own way of balancing tradition and innovation. The workplace is in a time of radical transition, leaving many businesses (including my own) searching for ways to give employees more flexibility and independence while still building a company that people actually feel connected to.