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Culturally integrating flexible workers – why it’s important and how to do it

An integrated worked is a happy worker. Look at any successful company and more often than not you’ll find a workplace culture that showcases the following seven characteristics:

  1. Purpose-driven;
  2. Effective communication patterns;
  3. Feedback culture;
  4. Embraces diversity;
  5. Collaborative;
  6. Employee engagement and loyalty; and
  7. Growth and development.

But, as the business world moves towards a more flexible working culture, an eighth characteristic comes into play: support and integration.

Presence and proximity works in an office because at base level, it provides a forum for on-the-go conversations and social interaction. Idea-sharing, collaboration and development of interpersonal relationships can therefore operate more smoothly and often, quicker, which feeds into the success of individuals, teams and companies as a whole. With the remote workforce growing exponentially – 162 million people in Europe and the United States (20 to 30 percent of the working-age population – engage in some form of independent work. It’s fair to assume that anyone working on a different schedule – and even in a different venue to the traditional office set-up – will start off at a disadvantage.

As with companies like Yahoo! and Reddit who famously reversed their remote working policies, a reliance on technology over process, meant that a large part of their flexible working structure failed. Similarly, IBM who in 2009 championed teleworking as the way forward for the future (and with 40% of its staff remote working by 2017), has done an about-turn and the (true) reasons and results remain to be seen.

Flexible working remains however,  one of the top attractions for job-seekers (over 75% asked rated this as a desired perk) and its success rate for many companies still, means there are ways of doing it right. The oft-reported benefits (among others) of lower turnover, increased engagement and productivity, and boosted profits are there, but without investment in support and integration, flexible workers can feel devalued, businesses won’t harness the best from them and will risk losing talented people.

So, we’ve come up with 3 key ways to make cultural integration, work:

1) Over-communicate

It would be silly to ignore the ‘cost’ of not seeing someone face-to-face everyday; you lose spontaneous interactions. What you gain however, is planned, focused interactions. Do you need work done that requires a brief? Be crystal clear with your expectations, provide more information than you think they require and follow-up regularly. Do you managers need to know what everyone is working on in order to lead? Schedule daily stand-ups, have several communication channels including Skype, Slack and email, and ensure both office-based and remote workers know which one to use, when. By over-communicating, everyone will know where they stand and eventually, a natural rhythm will appear.

2) Facilitate connections

Employees are people with feelings and lives outside of work – recognise this and use it to your advantage. During the interview and offer process, spend time finding out about their interests: sport, music, food etc. and link new starters with others in the company who might share these hobbies. If they have children then also (note: not instead of) connect them with others who have children close in age.

Despite the positive effect it has on productivity levels, remote working (even for a day or two a week), can be a lonely endeavour. A support system that includes peer support, buddy systems and mentoring at work are just as essential for someone’s mental health and well-being as it is for their career development. While it remains down to the employee to make the most of the connections, the onus is on you to make them available, and by doing so demonstrates your commitment to embedding them in your organisation.

3) Do as you say and as you do

It may seem obvious, but if you want your team to be inclusive, you must be inclusive. Make it clear to both the flexible and non-flexible workers that the formers’ input is non-negotiable – it’s essential for the business. Schedule non-movable meetings that take into account the flexible workers’ availability and when it comes to socialising and team-bonding activities, actively say you want them there. This will prevent feelings of ostracisation and avoid the toxic ‘us and them’ complex, which once formed, can be hard to break. Because where you lead, your team will follow.

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