As entrepreneurs, we all want to make our offices enjoyable, flexible places, where our staff can feel relaxed and comfortable to do their very best work. But knowing how to implement a truly flexible workplace, and maintain profitability and control, can be hard work if you’re in charge. Below I share my experience and ideas having implemented many of these policies within my group, Biz Latin Hub.
Being a flexible boss
Running my own business, I know how hard it can be to keep your employees in line and give them freedom and flexibility, whilst maintaining power and authority. As the co-founder of a back office services company, I’ve worked with businesses around the world, and time and time again I see how companies are afraid of change. Even businesses with award-winning products and the very best managers and employees will struggle if they’re not willing to change the way they do things or see things from a different perspective. Here’s my advice: change is a good thing.
One of the reasons our company has been so successful is that we were able to expand into new territories across Latin America, and when we did, we had to find new talent in each of those countries to offer our corporate services and work on business development. The truth is that every country is different, and an employee in Peru, for example, may have very different needs to an employee in Mexico. Not only are there differences in culture, which can mean that employees have different attitudes to work, company loyalty and growth, but there are also differences in legislation and regulations. Employees in one country, for example, may be entitled to 30 days of holidays per year, whilst in another, they may receive only public holidays.
Being a flexible boss is about putting all of these differences at the forefront of your business, and also accepting that no two employees are the same. Time and time again, we see just how important it is for businesses to be mindful of their employees' mental health, for example, and so being a supportive and flexible boss will allow them to thrive and feel comfortable in their working environment. If we don’t take the time to invest in our employees and give them the tools and support they need to thrive at work, they won’t perform to the best of their ability, and we won’t be able to utilise their core skills to take our businesses to the next level.
If there’s one piece of advice that I’d give to business owners and managers who want to adopt a more flexible working environment, it would be to be more open and honest with your staff and arrange regular catch-ups and meetings to keep track of their circumstances and needs. If you don’t, you may see a rise in absenteeism, or even see your top talent leave the organisation.
Working from home
One thing that I think sets our company apart from others is that we allow our employees to work from home as and when they wish. There are a number of reasons why we do this, and some of the most obvious include reducing employee’s commuting time, aiding in their levels of productivity, realising that employees who can work from home tend to call in sick far less than those that have to travel to the office every day, and that employees who can work from home tend to be more loyal and want to stay with the company, over employees in office-based roles.
Other benefits include an increased talent pool (we can find and hire the very best talent, even if they’re not in the same town or country as we are), and that employees can go to appointments (like the doctors, dentist or opticians) without needing to take time off of work. Finally, there’s the added benefit of us spending less money on office space, technology, heating and insurance.
However, allowing employees to work from home has some drawbacks. One of the biggest is that employees can go through the day without other human interaction and that it can be hard for them to switch off at the end of the working day. There are also many distractions when working from home, whether that be doing the laundry, dealing with the children or catching up on TV shows, and that working from home can sometimes lower productivity. There’s also the fact that it can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, see a drop in communication and collaboration, and that you may suffer from a bad reputation if all of your employees work from home and you don’t have a physical office space. There are some simple ways to reduce these negatives, however.
At our company, we work hard with our staff to ensure they’re well looked after and have the power to make their own decisions. Say an employee wants to go home early to look after their children or catch a football match - they can provided that they make up the hours. For our staff that work overseas or from home, we arrange catch-ups via Skype to encourage collaboration and get feedback and ideas, and we encourage employees to work from the office whenever they want to. Being flexible is all about give and take, so remember that you’re the boss and can ask staff to work from the office at a moment’s notice if you think it will benefit the business.
A flat management structure
Another way that you can make your workforce more flexible is by implementing a flat management structure, where there are few or no levels of management. There are a number of reasons why this is such an effective technique, as it not only gives employees responsibility in their jobs, which increases productivity and satisfaction, but it removes the unnecessary layers of management and allows us to pay our employees more fairly. It also means that we can make decisions much more quickly than if we had three layers of management, and it increases profitability as it eliminates the need for supervisors, managers and other positions in the firm.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to this technique, which we have to work hard to overcome. Not having a specific boss to report to when working on a task can create confusion, and as we continue to grow, we’ll no doubt struggle to adapt our flat structure and will instead have to look into other structures, such as dividing the company into smaller manageable units.
There’s no doubting that transforming your company workplace overnight can be hard work, but if you are dedicated and ready to see a change within your business, you’ll be able to create a more relaxed and flexible workplace in no time at all. I wish you the best of luck in your venture!
Seasoned Business and Investment Professional in Latin America. Craig Dempsey is the CEO and Co-Founder of a leading multi-national group, that specializes in the provision market entry and back office services in the Latin America. Craig holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Project Management. Craig is also a veteran, having served as an Australian military officer on numerous overseas missions and also a former mining executive with experience in various overseas countries.