The Manager’s Guide to Leading Teams

White Paper

In our global economy, companies are multi-national; workers are distributed around the world, relying on mobile devices to do their work and flexible work arrangements are becoming more commonplace. Going to work no longer necessarily means going to an office, which often allows people added flexibility to their workdays. With this evolution, however, also comes challenges that, when not considered beforehand, can fragment business processes, stall or break down effective communication between workers, limit collaboration and innovation, slow down the flow of business in a real time world and - in general - cause negative performance effects.

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A decade ago, the priority of most working people was career advancement, which meant doing what was necessary to move up the corporate ladder. Today the priority is the pursuit of a balance of work and life. A poll of 1,215 U.S. managers and employees by EY (formerly Ernst & Young) reports that people are choosing job opportunities and employers that offer flexible work arrangements > that encourage people to make the most of their life and their career. The survey suggests that, “life outside the office will become even a bigger draw – or a deal>breaker – than it already is.” This is further supported by “The+ Future+of+Work:+Reshaping+the+Workplace+ Today,+Building+for+Tomorrow,”+research report where Chess Media Group found that 87% of modern workers are using flexwork arrangements. The most common of these arrangements is flexplace (which enables workers to work outside traditional confines of the company office), followed by flextime (which allows workers to shift the standard workday to begin and end outside the typical hours of nine>to>five). Workers taking advantage of flexible work arrangements reported improved productivity (85%), improved balance of work and life (80%), improved job satisfaction (77%), greater personal happiness (68%), and reduced stress and burnout (59%). These also happen to be the top five expected benefits of flexwork.

Despite the benefits of flexplace strategies, many managers remain reluctant to initiate such a program within their organization. This is primarily due to the fact they don’t have a good handle on how to effectively manage a flexible and mobile workforce. Supporting this, recent studies have indicated that barriers to implementing flexplace arrangements are not due to technological considerations but rather stem from the existing cultural environment of the organization. Despite advantages in technology that make flexplace models a viable alternative to traditional work models, leaders continue to believe in the old adage of “out of sight, out of mind” and are not confident that employees who work offsite will maintain the necessary discipline to get their work done. These leaders prefer a hands>on management style, so that they may closely monitor performance (or the feared lack thereof ) of employees. These managers worry that those who work offsite will feel disconnected from the culture of the organization with an accompanying decline in motivation and productivity. However, Chess Media Group’s study shows that, if flexwork is implemented properly, these concerns become unfounded and are based on outdated notions of what a work environment is.

Therefore, the major barrier to implementation of flexwork options is the inability of leaders to effectively manage such a program, and not having (or recognizing) the necessary tools to ensure consistent performance. This does not mean that these managers are not capable. Mobility and flexible work arrangements are new business strategies that come with new challenges. Managers are not imagining their pain points: they exist, but so do effective solutions to them. The manager who is willing to learn new strategies and make adjustments to old systems can garner benefit for both the company and the people who work for them.

This report will provide managers with guidance as they seek to explore the implementation of a successful flexwork program.

Establishing a Foundation for Flexwork

Establish Communication Channels

Communication is the most critical element of a successful flexwork program. To be effective workers, all employees should understand the program’s policies. The flexwork policy should outline all elements of the program, including the most appropriate jobs for flexwork, guidelines for compliance and performance, and the company’s expectations. Employees should also be required to sign a flexwork agreement.

Below is an outline of the most important parts of communicating a flexwork initiative:

  • Create overarching policy statements that clearly define all the elements of the new program.
  • Define flexwork program goals and objectives and define the expectations of both the organization and flex worker.
  • Clearly demonstrate the process for participating in the program, including a review of acceptable/non>acceptable jobs.
  • Discuss program benefits to both the organization and flexworker.
  • Review performance expectations (including both work and attendance issues).
  • Create a checklist of needed equipment and software.

Build a FlexworkBFriendly Culture

A flexwork program will call for cultural adjustments, as such initiatives require leaders to reconsider how they will effectively supervise flexwork employees. Put simply, it will be important for managers to shift their mindset from “managing by seeing” to “managing by results” or, in other words, managers need to evaluate employee performance by how effectively they meet deadlines and the quality of their work, not by actual office presence. Disconnecting the office presence from the success of a company or a project will open up whole worlds of new possibilities for work arrangements. Flexwork initiatives bring to the light issues of trust and empowerment that are both critical aspects of successful working relationships—whether offsite or on—and which are too often lacking in organizations.

Before implementing a flexwork program to help alter company culture, managers may need to consider instigating the following policies to increase opportunities for successes in managing flexworkers:

  • Use technology to keep open communication channels (allowing your “virtual office” to expand its boundaries).
  • Reconsider how jobs are performed and restructure the processes, where necessary, to be able to function offsite.
  • Plan onsite meetings and team activities in advance. It’s within reason that managers require flexworkers to come back to the office for team meetings or special activities, if the workers are given fair notice.
  • Develop performance goals and expectations with a focus on short>term, concrete, and project>based goals. This serves dual purposes: First, it ensures consistent communication channels between supervisors and flexworkers, since they will have to meet on a short> term basis to discuss new goals; second, it ensures that flexworkers don’t become “runaway trains” and take off in the wrong direction midway through a more distant deadline
  • Implement performance measures that can be carried out virtually.

Work to Develop Enhanced Levels of Trust with Employees

While developing trust>based relationships with flexworkers is an important step in ensuring employee productivity, it is important for another reason as well: flexworkers must have trust in you as manager and not feel that they are being passed up for promotional opportunities or cut>off from special company events because they are not physically present at the office. Just as company leadership may be concerned about an “out>of>sight/out of mind” perspective on the part of flexworkers, these workers also will have concerns regarding estrangement from company culture. To avoid this, managers need to include their flexworkers in all recognition and reward ceremonies, as well as company>wide meetings and retreats and be sure they are not valuing them less because of their reduced physical presence.

Below are some further suggestions to help managers build trust in their flexwork program:

  • Demonstrate trust by adopting an “autonomy with accountability” philosophy.
  • Assign flexworkers projects that will require collaboration with other members of the team.
  • As a manager, try working a flexwork schedule for a period of time yourself, as this will provide insight into the experience and be a valuable tool in learning about the benefits and drawbacks of such a program, while also helping you to build effective management strategies for supporting it.
  • Respect the perspectives of your flexworkers in terms of resource needs and the timeframes involved in completing assignments.
  • Request and include the input of flexworkers when setting team goals and objectives.
  • Delegate tasks fairly between flexworkers and traditional employees.
  • Include flexworkers in departmental activities to ensure they don’t feel cut>off from the team.
  • Encourage informal communication among members of the team and consider implementing a virtual “water> cooler” – an internal social network, if you will, so colleagues can stay in touch and discuss off>work topics of interest… or stay connected on work>relevant topics from their home.
  • Establish consistent communication channels via telephone, web conferencing, file sharing, instant messaging, and other collaboration platforms
  • Remain flexible with program policies and procedures and adjust them as appropriate. What might look good on paper is sometimes very different when actually implemented

Cultivate a Culture of Inclusion

It cannot be stressed enough: it is critical to establish a teamwork environment when a flexwork component is present. You must ensure equality between those who work in the office and those who work offsite. There are many methods of maintaining open lines of communication, such as the telephone, email, instant messaging, online meetings, and social networks. Managers can also facilitate staff meetings online, which permits flexworkers the opportunity to participate without the need to commute. In addition, online video meetings allow the flexworkers to see other attendees, which allows for quality discussion among both team members and managers and a greater sense of connectivity.

Monitor Performance

Monitoring performance includes giving evaluations and feedback. Quantity, quality and timeliness of delivery are three measures that can be easily evaluated whether employees work offsite or in the office. Be sure to communicate performance expectations clearly with all employees and review them on a consistent basis. Since flexworkers are not onsite, managers should offer support and guidance through a collaboration platform on a frequent basis.

Selecting the Best Flexwork Tools

Before implementing a flexwork program, your company needs to first determine the technology resources needed so that flexworkers can meet with an equal measure of success when working offsite as they would if working in the company office.

Beyond the standard set of office equipment, there are a range of technology options available for implementing a flexwork program. Some may be familiar to you and others may require some research before making a decision on what you require.

The basic collaboration technology solutions needed for a flexwork program include:

  • Video conferencing with built>in audio
  • Secure file sharing and storage
  • Social workspaces for messaging and collaboration

By supplying flexworkers with the tools to continue to meet and collaborate, managers are able to maintain open channels of communication, which are needed for business operations. With these open channels, flexworkers are able to stay in step with managers, co>workers, and customers. Such channels also encourage better communication in general throughout the business, especially among management. Furthermore, such a collaboration program offers the following benefits:

  • The video conference technology enables flexworkers to experience a “live” meeting and easily participate in the discussion. This can also be used to connect to remote customers.
  • Managers gain a sense of control from having the opportunity to observe flexworkers during the meeting, which helps to lessen fears over a drop in performance.
  • Video conference platforms with presence>detection systems permit both managers and flexworkers to determine who is in attendance and, via built>in instant messaging, who is available for further discussion after the meeting.
  • By having employees participate in online meetings, and collaborate in online workspaces, managers can be assured that flexworkers are actively engaged with the team. This helps to reduce the concern about alienation and “apartness.” Also, flexworkers can use these tools to disseminate information more effectively to a wide range of people, without needing to call time> consuming in>person meetings.
  • File sharing means that confidential documents are stored on the application’s secure file sever rather than the flexworker’s personal computer. With file sharing, there is never a reason for sensitive data to be located on a single machine or to be lost during reorganizations.

Deciding on Flexwork Tools

After specific flexwork policies have been put in place, the next step is to decide on the best technology solutions. In most cases, the most secure method for establishing communication with flexworkers is a collaboration tool set. The following questions can help you decide on the collaboration software that will best meet your program’s needs:

  • Do your current communication tools cover all the needs of flexworkers so they may work effectively offsite? To make your toolset more flexible, consider adding file sharing, video conferencing, instant messaging, and social workspaces.
  • Do your tools maintain total privacy and confidentiality of company data?
  • Does the system incorporate secure encryption methods? How does the provider protect sensitive data and where will it be stored?
  • Does the system utilize firewalls? This feature is very important when intending to communicate with external parties.
  • Are security measures included in the overall cost of the software or are they an add>on to cost?
  • Is education, training, and technical support included with the cost of the software and can it be readily customized to the needs of different flexworkers? What type of support will be available to the teleworker?
  • What are the contractual terms? Are multiple licenses available for different users?

As the manager, it is your responsibility to identify the most appropriate solution while saving costs on implementing the flexwork program. To minimize technology costs, research programs that offer an integrated set of software tools, which provide compatibility between programs and permit easy transfer from one application to the next. This will reduce the likelihood of password fatigue from having to create a different password for each application.

Ensuring Security with Flexwork Programs

Managers need to consider the potential security risks from having flexwork arrangements. It is critically important that the technology tools you choose maintain a high sophistication of security to ensure that sensitive information is not compromised from a flexworker’s computer.

  1. Secure email systems: for flexwork programs, all email systems need to be fully encrypted to avoid security breaches. It’s also a good idea to set up junk folders and virus detection software to protect against potential viruses.
  2. Secure online meetings: all components of your collaboration software program— audio, video, data, and files—should be protected with the highest level of encryption and include password protection and encrypted file storage.
  3. Maintain control: the most effective way to ensure security is to maintain control over who has access to sensitive information and secure files. Decide the right level of secure access of all collaboration tools for flexworkers.
  4. Secure networks and applications: you need t o consider methods to secure both the network that is sending information and the application being used to communicate with flexworkers. This is especially important for those flexworkers that use wireless Internet, as there are significant vulnerabilities with these networks.


Advanced technology has permitted greater numbers of employees to participate in flexwork arrangements. For employees, flexwork arrangements permit them the opportunity to eliminate commuting costs, while offering flexible scheduling—which is highly important for those who may have personal commitments like family. For the employer, flexwork also offers a reduction in costs, as it is less expensive to pay for technology needed at home than to outfit and upkeep an office space. Much of this technology may, in fact, already be owned by the employees in the form of laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. Furthermore, Chess Media Group research found that employees are more productive when working from their home environment, if the proper support systems are put into place. Managers will find that their workers are able to put in more hours and work more effectively from an environment they are more naturally at ease in. While it’s likely that managers will come up against a few bumps in the road during early implementation, once they find solutions to these barriers, the organization as a whole will begin to realize the many benefits that flexwork arrangements offer.

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