This spring, we conducted our 2015 ConvergenceCoaching, LLC Anytime, Anywhere Work Survey and published the “big picture” results in our August 26th blog. In our anytime, anywhere work blog series, we’ve been exploring the feedback from the respondents with the hope that you’ll identify ideas you can implement to further (or begin) your firm’s anytime, anywhere work strategy.
In this blog, I’ll share feedback from respondents who answered the question: “What one piece of advice would you give other firms planning to offer any form of anytime, anywhere work program?” In this blog, we’ll focus on the first four advice themes and we will address the last two in separate blogs:

  1. Ensure buy-in to your anytime, anywhere work programs starting with your leadership
  2. Create deliberate and proactive communications – a fundamental key to success!
  3. Remain flexible and make changes as needed to your flex and virtual work programs
  4. A resounding message to “just do it” – embrace, implement and expand anytime, anywhere work programs
  5. Invest in technology (which my colleague Renee Moelders covered in detail in her blog Technology Makes Flexibility Work)
  6. Document your anytime, anywhere work policy – which we’ll cover in more detail in a future blog

1. Ensure buy-in – starting at the top!
To be successful, your anytime, anywhere work programs need to be first embraced and supported by firm leadership. Firms that have successfully implemented and now benefit from anytime, anywhere work programs have made it part of their core culture. People in your firm are likely to utilize your flex programs differently to fit their approach to work, personality, and balance of other commitments; however, all must support your firm’s programs in what they say and what they do. Some wisdom in this area from our respondents include:

  • “Leadership has to set the example. Demand that the shareholders respect the agreed arrangements and encourage others to embrace the policy and culture.” (3 respondents said this in some form!)
  • “Managers need training on how to connect and work with remote employees.” (3 respondents)
  • “Cultural buy in is important and the related issues should be openly discussed instead of assuming opposition exists when it doesn't.”
  • “Don't allow the naysayers to slow this down or undermine the movement.”
  • “You must have complete buy-in from the partner group; they must believe in the value of that type of work program or it won't work.”

2. Expectations/Communications
Communication is a MUST for anytime, anywhere programs to work. Communication takes time and planning – which makes us better managers and client servers – but many firm leaders do not take the time necessary to think about who needs to know what and when. We encourage you to create a written policy and documented expectations and a communications plan to roll out and address frequently asked questions about your anytime, anywhere work programs (click here for our template). Your communications plan will help identify your key messages for your various stakeholders and the timing and owner for each. The respondents to our survey agreed:

  • "Provide clear communication on expectations and performance measures. Performance measures should be monitored closely when beginning arrangement in order to build trust between employer and employee. We allow this only for more experienced levels that don't need as much assistance with completing assignments.” (13 respondents mentioned expectations in some fashion)
    • Some additional comments related to expectations and performance measures include:
      • “Ensure there is an atmosphere of trusting those working remotely to promote best practices and timely task completion.” (3 respondents indicated a foundation of trust is key)
      • “Clearly define what the program is and communicate it openly. Don't make it a ‘not talked about' thing so those that are unable to participate don't feel like it is a 'secret' program.”
      • “Have a written policy and ensure management team understands policy, is able to have difficult conversations, understands the importance of increased communication needs, and address, within this level, any comments or behaviors that are toxic and go against the policy/culture. Also, this has required, for us, a huge need to work with the management team on how to effectively coach employees, create consistency as to what we are looking for in terms of performance - so that employee know what is needed and management helps drive what is needed.”
      • “For us it works because our staff use it as a complement to working in the office. They do not strictly work from home. So I would say make sure that employees still make it to the office.”
      • “Implement core business hours.”
      • “Possibly tie specific performance measurements or expectations to the remote employees so they know the expectation ahead of time.”
      • “If employee isn't willing to do their part, remind them of mutual expectations but don't be afraid to discontinue with an employee if it isn't working for the firm.”
  • “Communicate, communicate, communicate.” – (6 respondents emphasized the need for communication)
    • “Communication is critical. And those that work outside the office MUST be available and flexible to work inside the office when needed”
    • “Document expectations related to availability and communication.”
    • “Emphasize that client service cannot suffer, response time cannot suffer and communication with project team members is critical.”
    • “Make sure you don't forget to include those folks in various meetings and communications.”

3. Be flexible/creative
Some wise respondents approach their anytime, anywhere work programs as a “pilot” – including each new element that they roll out – and remain flexible to make changes as they figure out what works for their firm, their team members and their clients. Assessing your current program(s) and then deciding what to do next as it evolves is an excellent way to try new ideas and allow your team members to be part of the solution and communications going forward. Consider the following advice from respondents:

  • “Start off as a pilot program, subject to refinement and put it in writing. Also do a formal check in with people who took advantage and those who did not, to get their thoughts, 2-3 months after the program is rolled out.” (7 similar responses encouraging firms to pilot your programs, or even components of your program – see a few more below)
    • "Take your time. Pilot it in pieces. Be patient!”
    • “Try it slow and work the bugs out before rolling it out to the masses.”
  • "Take each case individually.” (11 respondents)
    • “Each individual has their own messy issues, be flexible.”
    • ”In client service, one policy is very difficult to apply to all situations - we have found flexibility among engagement teams to be most useful.”
    • “Make sure the programs clearly outline who is eligible. We have a lot of first year staff that believe they should be able to work from home, when they may not yet have the technical capabilities to do so.”
    • “The individual given the option to work anytime/ anywhere needs to be responsible and require little supervision.”
    • “Do not let your best people leave if their departure could be solved with anytime/anywhere work flexibility. They are a known commodity.”
  • “Reevaluate individual flexible work arrangement agreement on a 6 mth or annual basis to ensure that it is working for both the employer and employee. Agreements may need to be modified based upon feedback from clients and/or employee in-charges.” (11 respondents)
    • “It is a journey. May take a bit of time to adjust, but it's critical we get this right.”
    • “Keep an open mind, don't assume the staff isn't capable of managing it. Also, allow for revision. Start off with a plan give it time (6 months), then re-evaluate, you need to make changes or revisit expectations and that's okay.”
    • “Be open to the ideas of your staff in the remote capabilities they would like implemented.”
    • “Be willing to adjust processes to make this work.”

4. Encouragement
The number one area of advice with nineteen (19) respondents encouraged firm leaders to take the leap of faith and implement – or continue to refine – anytime, anywhere and flex work programs – before you get left behind! These programs are expected by our future leaders who will be handed the torch soon (if not already!). And when implemented well, anytime, anywhere work programs can result in many benefits including higher morale, retention of your best and brightest, enhanced communication and team collaboration, and flexibility for your clients. A few words of encouragement from our respondents include:

  • “Just do it!” (8 respondents)
    • “Try it before you say no.”
  • “I believe we all have to move forward in this area, as this is what Millennials want and expect. And, as they are the future of our firms, we all need to strongly consider.” (12 similar responses including some of the following)
    • “Do it soon or you will lose good staff and clients.”
    • “Go for it. If you are having staffing issues, this might help.”
    • “It is the best morale booster you will encounter. It has not been as difficult to manage as we thought and will never go back to a traditional work environment.”
    • “It is worth it! You have to trust your employees and you have to be willing to change how you do things today.”

A few additional encouraging words include:

  • “Don't make it more than it is. It is a progression, not a jump off of a cliff.”
  • “Implement it because the benefits far outweigh the negatives.”

We truly believe that flexible, virtual work is key to recruiting, engaging and retaining young talent today – and clients will be increasingly expecting this, too! Differentiate your firm and attract and retain bright, future leaders -- pilot some of these ideas and offer a flexible approach to work today!
Please share your successes or lessons learned as your firm has embarked on your anytime, anywhere work journey. We’d love to learn from you!