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10 Ways Distributors Can Create a Flexible Work Environment

10 Ways Distributors Can Create a Flexible Work Environment

By Bridget McCrea

It’s time to get flexible and find new ways to keep employees engaged and loving their jobs while also maintaining company productivity and profitability.

Did you know that a flexible work environment doesn’t mean allowing everyone to work from home, pick their own work hours, or schedule vacation days on a whim? While some may associate these perks with “flexibility” in the workplace, there are many other strategies that companies can use to court, recruit, and retain employees that are looking for positions that fit their lifestyles and that get them more engaged and productive while on the job.

“Flexibility is about an employee and an employer making changes to when, where, and how a person will work to better meet individual and business needs,” according to the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. “Flexibility enables both individual and business needs to be met through making changes to the time (when), location (where), and manner (how) in which an employee works. Flexibility should be mutually beneficial to both the employer and employee and result in superior outcomes.”

The benefits of a flexible workplace go beyond just giving employees more time to themselves, more time for their families, and alternative places to get their work done. According to Forbes, a recent study show that flexible workers were generally “a whole lot” more productive than their 9-to-5 peers, and over a 9-month period the study found that flexible workers achieved more, were off sick less often, worked longer hours, and were happier in their work.

10 Ways to Get Flexible
The question is, how can an electrical distributor that needs warm bodies in seats, capable individuals in the warehouse, friendly salespeople at the counter, and productive sales reps out on the road create a flexible work environment that attracts younger, flex-oriented employees? To answer that question, tED interviewed a handful of recruiting and management experts who shared their top ideas for creating a flexible work environment. Here’s what they had to say:

    1. Start by creating a positive atmosphere. If your workplace still looks and feels like it did 20 years ago, then it’s probably time for an overhaul. Focus on creating an environment where employees actually want to come to every day. “Greet your employees by name each morning,” says Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation.com, “encourage them to ask questions and engage with others, and offer perks like ‘Bagel Fridays’ to build morale.”
    2. Offer opportunities for advancement. Let your team know that there are opportunities for growth within the company and give them work that challenges and engages. “Recognize their accomplishments,” Case says, “and promote from within by allowing them to transfer to another department based on their skill sets.”
    3. Ask employees what they want. One of the best ways to build a flexible work environment is by asking staff members what they want—instead of coming up with new policies and hoping that employees embrace them. “Get insights from your employee base, ask them what their pain points are, what perks or changes they’d like to see, and how they would apply those options in their own lives,” says Nora Cottrill, community manager at Alongside and author of The 6 C’s of Strategic Hiring.In some cases, the answers may surprise you. “Simply ‘pasting in’ a flexibility plan probably won’t work,” says Cottrill. “In the end, something you thought would be really useful and well received may not actually be what your staff wants after all.”
    4. Break out of the “9-5” mentality. For anyone whose work is client-facing or depends on sales, working from home “usually offers the employer no advantage,” says Robin Schwartz of MFG Jobs, an online source for manufacturing jobs. “Still, there are many ways to entice workers looking for flexible work arrangements.” Schwartz says one possibility is to consider allowing for flexible daily schedules. For some workers, 9-5 might be ideal, she says, but for others a 10-6 schedule could help them better balance work and life (e.g., if they have small children who have a 9am school start time).
    5. Offer consolidated work schedules. This is where an employee can opt to work four, 10-hour days a week instead of a more traditional schedule. “If enough employees take part, you would be able to schedule them so that there’s always the appropriate amount of staff working each day,” Schwartz points out. “And if there is a day or two per month where an employee needs to catch up on paperwork or administrative tasks, those might be considered as days where the employee can work remotely from a location of the person’s choosing even if his or her job is typically not conducive to working from home.”
    6. Focus on completed projects versus hours clocked. Acknowledging that most electrical distributors’ customers have standard hours and also respond to customer requests outside of those hours, HR expert Laura Handrick of Fit Small Business, suggests instituting flexible workplace options for staff members who can perform some or all of their work offsite. Flexible work requires that the business manage the work completed (sales goals, number of clients, account volume), rather than counting the time spent working at their desk in your office. “Not only does this save the business from having to provide ‘office space’ for each team member,” says Handrick, “but it also gives employees the autonomy to do their ‘desk work’ anytime of the day or night so long as they have a computer, Internet access, and cell phone.”
    7. Approach flexibility on a case-by-case basis. Not everyone on your team will want to work a consolidated schedule, and not everyone will have young children who need to be picked up from daycare by 4pm. Knowing this, Handrick says distributors can tailor their flexible programs to the needs of specific workers.  Here are a few examples of how to do this:
      • Susan works mostly with sales and financing. Can she work from home making calls? Can she visit customer sites when it’s convenient for her (and them) even if it’s after 5pm? Can she update spreadsheets, create proposals, or do other data entry from her home computer? Can she start at 6am so that she has time to pick up her kids at the bus stop at 3pm? “This is the type of flexibility many workers request,” Handrick says, “and not just younger candidates (although they may expect this type of flexibility).”
      • Bill works in transportation and has eight deliveries to complete per day. Can he come in early to load up and then stop home for two hours to take his mom to her weekly doctor’s appointment? “It means his last delivery won’t happen until about 6pm, but that’s okay, because that business (his customer) is open till 7pm,” Handrick says. “Would that work? Can he log his hours using an app on his cell phone? These are all great ways to create more work flexibility in a way that doesn’t negatively impact operations.”
      • Gina is the bookkeeper. She takes customer calls, but most of her work is computer-based. Other than month end reconciliation or business meetings, she really doesn’t need to be in the office. And in fact, she’s studying for her CPA and needs time to attend classes. “Consider providing her a work-from home computer, cell phone, and scheduling her work around her school hours,” Handrick suggests.
    8. Experiment with job rotation. Claire Reynolds, director of staffing services at The HT Group, an Austin-based staffing firm, knows how difficult it can be to infuse flexibility into a workplace where employees need to be physically present. “We have to meet people in person every day and we have to be in the office to do that as well as service our clients who are working traditional business hours,” says Reynolds, who advises distributors to “get creative” by rotating (on a weekly basis) different staff members being able to leave early and/or come in late in order to maintain coverage while “giving people the flexibility they need to take care of everyday life.”
    9. Give cross-training a try. If you’re not already training employees across different departments—inside sales, outside sales, front counter, warehouse, finance/accounting—then it’s time to start. “Cross-training staff can really help give your team more flexibility,” says Reynolds, “so business and lives can go on, and so that both can actually be successful when things do come up and someone needs to cover for another worker in a different department.”
    10. Look at what others are doing. Flexible work environments are extremely popular right now, which means your company isn’t going to be the first to start “Bagel Fridays,” consolidated work schedules, and work-from-home options. “Research best practices that other organizations are using, both within and outside of your specific industry,” says Cottrill. “There’s a lot of reference material online, conferences to learn from, and other resources that you can use to find out how other companies handle this. Then, apply those best practices to your industry and/or your environment.”



McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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