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How to Manage ‘Flexible’ Staff - Part 1

You’ve probably noticed that the term ‘flexible staff’ is increasingly being used by businesses recruiting for new roles. So, I want to shed some light on how using flexible team members in your business can increase productivity and decrease expenses - and then, in part 2 of this series, I’ll look at how to use WorkflowMax to help you manage them.

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What does ‘flexible’ mean exactly?

Flexible is not the same as part time or casual.  Part time is permanent, with set hours - such as Mondays and Tuesdays, 2 – 8 pm.  Casual is not permanent,  and includes non-roster hours, as needed - for example you might ask your employee to “come in Tuesday this week 9 – 2pm”.  Flexible is permanent hours, usually stated in a range – such as, ‘20 – 40 hours per week, between the hours of 9am to 9pm, work may be completed onsite or offsite as required’.

A lot of people feel that being flexible is a one-sided benefit for the employee alone; some think it suits the employer.  You should aim for a win-win situation, where the needs and expectations of both sides are met.

Employer benefits and tips

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As an employer, having flexible employees has it’s benefits from a business perspective. My picks for the top three:

1. Increased productivity

Having flexible staff can increase your productivity percentage:

  • Flexible staff are paid for hours worked, and they aren’t filling empty hours with non-productive busy work.
  • For valuable staff members, who are very productive and can’t fit any more hours in the day, having a flexible employee to delegate blocks of work to when needed can increase their output.

You set the minimum (and maximum) hours, or KPIs, and this can be flexible depending on workload:

  • Minimum hours must be adhered to so the employee doesn’t just turn up when it suits them.
  • If chargeable, you probably want them to work as much as possible, so you don’t need to set an upper limit. However, if the employee is part of the admin team for example, then you may need to set a maximum to suit. For both, there needs to be strict adherence to minimum hours, or KPIs (see the note on hazards a little later in this post).
  • You can use WorkflowMax reporting or use the report builder to create custom reports in order to manage this productivity.

2. Reduced expenses

Why pay for 40 hours of work when only 35 were needed this week? With flexible staff, you’ll only pay for work done, not set hours - this kind of model helps you to better align your sales and cost of sales.

It’s not uncommon to come across the perfect employee who also happens to be a parent who is returning to work and needing flexible hours to fit around their family commitments. By offering them a flexible position, you can quite often get a highly skilled person at a reduced rate.

One cost-saving idea is to try a hot desk arrangement, where two flexible team members share the workload and desk. This reduces hardware and furniture costs for your business, while improving cover over day to day hours and for holidays.

3. Reduced Attrition

Flexible team members are normally very loyal. When given a role that fits around their lifestyle or other commitments, they are generally very reluctant to lose such an opportunity. Offering flexible roles reduces attrition and the costs associated with bringing on new or temporary replacement staff.

Employee benefits and tips

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From the employee’s perspective, a flexible role is often a much sought-after position, so for them, some of the benefits include:

1. Flexible hours to suit family needs

For all parents or caregivers in general, managing the needs of full-time work and the needs of their families can be a stressful balancing act.

  • For parents returning to work, it can be very difficult finding daycare to suit a job, and finding a job to suit daycare.
  • It is amazing how often kids are sick, so having the flexibility to be at home with them, or to attend events or school trips is invaluable.
  • If a flexible employee is able to work during school hours, then complete a couple of hours from home, this allows them to have a full time job, and with it the benefits a full time wage.

2. Flexible hours to suit lifestyle or career goals

For some employees, they may have moved past the ‘career’ stage, now they simply want to work somewhere friendly in a role they enjoy that makes use of their skills - so, as an employer, don’t discount the energy people in this situation may bring to the table.

3. Job satisfaction

For many employees, flexibility is an important value. If you look after your team and build a great cohesive work environment, you will naturally draw in more happy staff, ultimately resulting in happy clients.

Hazards to manage

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Of course, managing flexible staff isn’t always smooth sailing. You may come across employees who take advantage of their flexible role, or repeatedly fail to meet your expected KPIs.

Minimum hours or KPIs must be adhered to

This is really the most important issue to manage.  Flexible does not mean ‘turn up when you want’.

Make sure the operations manager, or person managing your team is effective – note, this might not be you.  At Katalyst, our Bookkeeping Manager looks after our team, and, as the business owner, I have nothing to do with productivity or hours worked, as I have other priorities.

Make sure your Flexible Permanent Employment Agreement states your expectations around work  hours if required. For example, that your team aren’t making business calls after hours if certain work has to be done during the day.

Excuses

If, for whatever reason, your employee is unable to complete their work to reach the minimum hours required, what arrangement can be made so that they make up the lost hours?

For example: Internet Reliability - If your flexible team member is working from home because the kids are sick, and the internet is down, can they use data on their mobile phones instead?

Attrition

What’s important to your team members?

  • With mums or dads returning to work, they may be willing to take on a role with a lower pay rate to start with in order to fit work around their lifestyle, but remember that they’ll still be looking for opportunities for growth or development, as well as pay reviews.  Some will stay for flexibility, but you still need to make sure they are kept happy in terms of remuneration.
  • Things change with time, your flexible team members may want reduced or increased hours at different stages, be aware of this – it might not suit you both to make such changes, so discuss it up front.
  • As with all staff, all you have to do is keep lines of communication open: what do they value, what is important to them? Don’t assume you know.

Team Cohesiveness

Existing full-timers might not like the idea of flexible team members – some full timers view flexible staff suspiciously.  They assume because they aren’t at work, that they are not working. Or some many feel like the flexible staff have special privileges.

  • Hold a team session to sort through any issues up front.  When we wanted to build a more cohesive team, we used Rosina Webb of Energise to facilitate a personality profiling session.  This was invaluable to iron out any team ‘tender spots’ and to build support among our team.
  • Set agreed outcomes or KPIs for the flexible team member rather than basing output on hours worked – see part two for more on this.
  • Work out your core vision.  One simple sentence that speaks to each of you as a team, works for your clients and which each person can commit to.  For us, we used business mentor, Sarah Lochead-MacMillan from Business Turbo Booster.  If you trust you are all working towards the same goal, there will be fewer issues.
  • Get the whole team together for regular staff events and team meetings.

Need some contract advice?

A brief note about Flexible Permanent Employment Agreements, from our HR Manager – Lisa Mackay from HRtoolkit (NOTE: this refers to New Zealand-based employees):

Legally your employment agreement has to provide sufficient detail about the hours of work that an employee can decide if they can:

a) Live on the income you are offering, and

b) Commit to those hours

In small businesses and seasonal businesses the hours of chargeable work can vary from week to week, but you still need to pay the wages if you have guaranteed hours of work.

However, with flexible hours contracts you can put in place agreements, which allow you to flex the hours of work up and down according to workflow demands. 

Therefore you can more readily match your income with the wages spend.

If you are a New Zealand-based business, HRtoolkit has a great document library for contracts, and everything staff-related in your business - think of them as your HR Manager on tap.

Keep an eye out for part two of this blog which will look at how you can manage productivity and workflow using the features of WorkflowMax.

Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net