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By Kim Shepherd

Workplace flexibility: it’s a hot phrase right now, buzzing through offices and across industries.

HR professionals have embraced it and while many are adapting their office to accommodate the wants – and needs – of employees, few really know how to put a successful flexible workplace program into place. Some big-name companies have moved away from flexible procedures, while others completely ignore the pursuit of something they view as unattainable.

But, the truth is, when deployed correctly, workplace flexibility can be the competitive factor that attracts – and retains – top talent. It also can help boost company productivity. It just takes time, effort and the occasional trial and error.

Companies of all sizes can learn how to introduce and master a productive, flexible work environment in their offices. There are many formulas that work seamlessly for employees and management alike, and many others that won’t work. Everyone assumes there are pitfalls to going flexible – and they're right. But overcoming them is possible and can make a company stronger.

If a flexible work environment is an idea you’ve toyed with, or are even curious about, there are certain tips to keep in mind as to how to transform a traditional workplace.

Do research

With more companies adapting a flexible workplace environment, there is no shortage of resources to refer to as you create a plan that will work for your office. Read articles on companies using a flexible workplace model, and talk to management about relevant experiences putting that model into action.

Find out which policies have soared beyond expectations, and which have crashed and burned. Use that information to create a plan that implements tailor-made procedures for your office environment and company culture.

Networking with other HR professionals, who may be able to share their successful experiences, is also a great way to learn dos and don’ts when implementing a flexible workplace policy. Most importantly, ask your employees. They’re a great resource, so talk to them and find out how they would feel – and what they would like to see – in the company’s flexible workplace policy.

Ease into the process

If the concept of a flexible workplace is new to your company, ease into flexible work arrangements rather than springing an entirely new environment on employees and management. Test the flexibility waters by doing a trial where you divide virtual-eligible employees into four groups and have them rotate working from home one Friday a month. Identify your measurements, track the results and decide after three months if this is advantageous.

During this period of research and development, you can work out the kinks, test employee reactions and find the solution that is right for your company culture. As you receive feedback from management, employees and clients, think of your flexible workplace as a fluid solution, one that is able to adapt to the changing needs of your workplace.

As you move forward with a newly established flexibility plan, hire professionals who have an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for excellence. Self-discipline is essential, but it has to be motivated. Employees should be aware of what will be expected of them and they should have an inner drive to succeed that will be reflected in the work they produce.

Measure productivity

The best way to know if a flexible work environment will work for your company is to put it into practice – and measure the results. Track employee productivity and create a metric system that allows progress and work to be monitored. Flexible workplaces should reduce the cost of doing business and increase workplace satisfaction, but work quality should not suffer. Create clear expectations and hold employees responsible for meeting those expectations.

Each industry and office will have its own way to measure success. Suggested metrics include:

• Individual performance: Each employee is expected to meet his/her goals in a timely manner and to communicate if these goals are not going to be met.
• Group productivity: Every effort put forth by employees is a group result, and triumphs are shared and celebrated.
• Company profits: A properly executed flexible workplace is one that will also increase profits. Employees’ happiness should reflect the company’s bottom line.

Don’t lose your culture

You don’t build company culture like an office structure or implement it like a new accounting system. Culture is intangible – it’s meant to be felt. Think of culture as a plant – a vine that grows and changes all the time. In many cases, the flexibility offered by a company can be vital to the fabric of its culture. In other cases, flexibility is just an added benefit of an already rich corporate culture. Whichever the case may be, don’t lose sight of the importance of building an environment in which employees can thrive and absorb themselves in their work.

Establish a workplace that inspires employees and makes them feel connected, no matter how remotely they are located. Organize team “water cooler” events such as parties, recaps of family vacations and hold regular all-hands-on-deck meetings, even if they need to take place in a virtual meeting room.

Decide if flexibility fits

A flexible workplace may not be right for every business, or every employee, but if it is a policy that would benefit your office, these tips should help ease the transition and make for a happy office.

As HR professionals, the opportunity exists to increase profitability in a way that also keeps a hold on your company’s top talent. The workplace is migrating to a “Me Inc. World” mentality, which means A-players pick who they want to work for – not the other way around. With more companies offering flexible workplace options, job seekers are taking notice, and it may be the deciding factor when faced with two positions. In an ever-evolving economy, it is important to stay ahead of the trends and offering a flexible workplace may just be the way to do it in your industry.

Kim Shepherd is the CEO of Decision Toolbox.

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