Top Tips for Managers: Having conversations around Smart Working
The best ideas start with a conversation. And in a culture of trust, there needs to be a willingness to exchange ideas about working in different ways.
Here are some top tips about how to approach conversations around Smart Working:
Be positive and open
Sometimes people can be hesitant about suggesting varying the time and place of their work. Encourage people you manage or supervise to be open with their ideas about working more flexibly. There may be practical constraints or things that might need to be adjusted to make it work, but ensure that people feel comfortable raising ideas. Be proactive about suggesting options for the team.
Be prepared to challenge assumptions around how work is traditionally done
Smart Working isn’t just using new tools to work in the old ways. There are possibilities to transform the way work is done. The location and timing of work may need to be challenged – they may not be necessities at all, but just habitual or part of a culture of being present or ‘always on’.
Processes that limit flexibility may also need to be challenged, and the way activities are bundled in particular roles.
Use the methods set out in the Toolkit on deciding the where and when of work to guide the conversation.
Be creative about job design where appropriate, and how work activities can be grouped and shared with others
It is important not to think of the workloads of particular roles as being immutable. Though in many cases there are no problems around doing the work at different times or at different locations, sometimes it is necessary to work through the activities undertaken by the employee.
For example, remote working can be enabled where maybe it did not seem possible by grouping together on a single day the activities that can be undertaken away from the office. Distributing tasks between different members of the team can enable work to be covered on non-work days for people working reduced hours.
Avoid seeing supervision and teamwork as barriers. Instead, work through potential solutions that can make work more productive
Sometimes it is assumed that all supervision and all teamwork involve being physically in the same place at the same time. In the 21st century, this is not the case. When managing by results, good systems should be in place for scheduling and monitoring work wherever and whenever people are working.
And there are good techniques and protocols for effective teamwork without always being in the same place. It’s a good idea to facilitate team agreements around Smart Working [link to resource T18] so that everyone is on board with the working arrangements, and is aware of both their choices and responsibilities for sharing information, having flexible meetings [link to resource M13], reporting progress and problems etc.
Think positively about how supporting Smart Working can retain valued members of staff, particularly around key life events such as childbirth and returning to work after maternity or paternity leave
All managers can contribute to retaining valued staff by thinking positively about how working more flexibly can help people balance work and the rest of life, particularly at times such as becoming new parents and coping with caring responsibilities.
Trial periods can be explored. But be wary of an approach where dragging people back to the office is presented as a sanction if there are any issues
When making a regular change to the pattern of work, it’s sometimes a good idea to have a trial period of the new working pattern. There then need to be regular open and candid conversations about how it is working.
If it’s not working, an adjustment to the work pattern may be needed. Bringing someone back into the office and traditional hours should not be the default position if there are issues to address - i.e. returning to management by presence and old ways of working. Instead, focus on any underlying issues. If someone is not performing working remotely, there is probably an underlying performance issue to solve wherever they are working.
Our approach to Smart Working should be creative and enabling, rather than a bureaucratic “tick-box” approach
Though we include some templates and checklists in the Smart Working Toolkit, making Smart Working work successfully is not a box-ticking exercise. It’s about being creative and developing relationships alongside new working practices to find the best ways to work.