There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to flexible work. Every company’s needs are different, and, as Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index Pulse Report showed, it’s essential to support flexibility in different work styles for your people and teams. According to the report, 58 percent of employees who planned to spend most of their time at the office chose that option so they could do “focused work.” Meanwhile, among employees who planned to work primarily from home, the exact same percentage of respondents said that option would best enable them to do…focused work.
In the long term, making flexible work the best it can be for every employee will require an intentional approach, as well as investment in the right digital tools and reimagined office spaces. (For more on that, see Microsoft’s comprehensive hybrid work guide for business leaders.) The key, we’ve found, is to make sure your flexible work policies are themselves flexible, so everyone can integrate work more holistically into their lives. Not sure where to start? These six strategies will empower your people to work flexibly right now.
1. Talk to your team.
What do your employees really need to do their best work? You’ll never know unless you ask. Start by encouraging managers to initiate discussions with their teams and create a safe environment for people to share their views, feedback, and ideas about what’s working and what’s not. In one-on-ones, dive deeper into your employees’ work styles and needs to determine how you can support them. Ultimately, working with your people to create team agreements—set principles colleagues agree on to guide their flexible work practices—will bridge differences in work styles and give everyone more clarity.
2. Keep in mind that flexibility isn’t just about where you work.
When so much of the hybrid work conversation centers around working from home versus returning to the office, it’s easy to forget that other dimensions of flexibility are equally important. Flexibility in when work happens is particularly appealing to women, according to data from LinkedIn, perhaps because they tend to juggle more of the household and caretaking responsibilities.
Those small nudges will start to create a culture that empowers flexible workers—and helps ensure people aren’t working all the time.
Make it clear to your employees that asynchronous collaboration is encouraged: let them know it’s okay to miss a meeting and catch up later, for example, or that there’s no need to respond to non-urgent messages outside of their chosen working hours. Those small nudges will start to create a culture that empowers flexible workers—and helps ensure people aren’t working all the time.
3. Hit Record.
Making it a practice to record meetings allows employees the flexibility to prioritize their time and catch up later if there’s a gathering they need to miss. In Microsoft Teams, the recordings generate an automatic transcript, so those who missed the meeting in real time can search for a relevant topic and jump straight to it. This is particularly helpful for meetings in which only part of the agenda is relevant. “Instead of sitting in that meeting for an hour,” says Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365 Collaboration, “I can get up to speed in five minutes.” (Just remember to always ask for participants’ permission to record.)
4. Make every meeting a Teams meeting.
“To maintain fairness, and to make sure you’re still seeing everybody and everyone’s collaborating, most of your meetings are going to have to be virtual meetings,” says Dr. David Rock, the co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute. There, “we have a saying: one virtual, all virtual. If everyone’s in the office, great, meet together. If one or two people are virtual, you’re all on a platform.” Even when everyone is onsite, many teams and organizations find it useful to maintain digital-first best practices. Using a Microsoft Teams Room or holding all meetings on Teams allows people who aren’t there to contribute to the group chat and review the transcript and recording later.
5. Include remote participants in pre- and post-meeting conversation.
As soon as IRL participants walk into the room, click the “join” button to start the meeting—even if the meeting hasn’t officially started. That way, remote teammates can be a part of the informal catchups that make coming together so valuable. Likewise, when the meeting wraps, physical participants should remain in the Teams meeting until they leave the room, so all attendees can debrief together on equal footing.
6. Follow the chat.
Make sure to pay attention to the chat conversation in Teams. “One of the advantages of that is it allows people to start participating without having to actively take the floor,” says Microsoft’s chief scientist, Jaime Teevan. “You see that being used by people with less visibility in a meeting. For example, women find in-meeting chat to be particularly valuable to them.” Encouraging the written input of those who struggle to get a (spoken) word in edgewise—or just feel more comfortable chiming in with their keyboard—will make all attendees feel heard.
For many, flexible work is the new reality. Being intentional about enabling it can help employees feel secure that they are doing it in a way that works for them—and the whole organization.