Increase Flexibility without Losing Productivity

The past two years have shown the importance of flexibility: while it generates huge benefits for employees, it can also result in larger coordination effort and costs for managers. Here are four ways managers can offer their teams flexibility without losing productivity and increasing costs.

Rethink When Employees Should Work Together

For project-based tasks, managers should chart out project activities and timeline and block in advance specific days for overlapping work during key project phases. For less predictable tasks, consider aligning scheduling bursts with calendar time. Scheduling bursts significantly reduce process loss and project restart costs, especially when members work on multiple projects.

Rethink Who Works Together

In workplaces with less physical and temporal overlap between employees, managers need to reorganize their teams into smaller, empowered, and interconnected sub-teams.  For example, converting a team of 12 into three teams of 4 empowers employees to make decisions and makes it easier for them to help coordinate their work. This reduces coordination costs placed on the manager without dumping them all on the most accommodating employee(s).

Rethink Information Sharing

When employees were co-located, giving or receiving an update only required few steps. The current situation requires other ways to guarantee information availability. There are several tools to facilitate asynchronous work: however, employees must use and update them in real time to ensure work progress transparency. Managers should also consider dusting off some classic project management tools, including the RACI matrix, which denotes who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed for each task.

Revisit What Employees Are Working On

Managers must think about the structure of their employees’ tasks and priorities. Mapping out tasks and how they’re connected each other is crucial for setting priorities and avoid bottlenecks. Since priorities are likely to change over time, frequently communicating priorities will help ensure that employees’ time and efforts are well spent, no matter when or where they’re working. If employees want the benefits of flexibility, they’ll also need to shoulder some of the responsibility that goes with it, like autonomous problem-solving and providing and checking for updates. However, that doesn’t mean setting them adrift in the storm. Managers are still responsible for making sure everyone is rowing to the correct location in the same direction — even if they’re rowing at different times.

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