Four Tactics for Becoming a More Flexible Manager

The workplace has transformed in the past year, which means managers need to change, too. Here’s how to become more open to the flexible working conditions today’s professional environment requires.

The pandemic has changed the way we work, and organizations are recognizing the importance of having a flexible workplace. At the same time, some managers are allowing less flexibility among their teams than the organization on the whole allows. But there are ways managers can adjust their approaches to accommodate more flexible working conditions.

“If you have a company with a culture of accountability, responsibility, and performance-oriented individuals, then flexibility almost comes naturally,” says David Windley, a human resources professional and president of IQTalent Partners. “It’s because you’re going to measure them on performance and give them the freedom to perform.”

Consider these tips from Windley to become a more flexible manager.

Focus on Results

When you’re at work in person every day, you might gauge employee productivity on attendance and hours spent in the office. Now that many workplaces are remote or hybrid, it’s easy to start micromanaging to make up for the lack of face time, which is why managers should focus less on the process and more on results.

“It’s really about a management style that’s managing ultimate performance and not managing the input, or the sausage-making. If you could change your mindset in that way, I think you get more comfortable with flexibility,” Windley says.

Ask yourself:

  • Are your employees meeting their deadlines?
  • Are they accomplishing the goals you set out at the beginning of the assignment?
  • Are they responsive on messaging channels, and do they regularly attend meetings?
  • Are they still producing high-quality work even though you’re not managing them in person?

If the answer to all of these is “yes,” then you don’t need to track employees’ every move throughout the day. And if a few employees abuse this flexibility, you can manage them in a more hands-on way, but Windley says not to create a system based around that small group.

“Oftentimes, companies create performance management systems for that bad 5 percent when what they really should do is create policies for the 95 percent and deal with the 5 percent,” Windley says.

Trust, But Verify

Windley says when you trust that the people you hired want to perform, they will perform. Without trust in your employees, it’s easy to overmanage, which could create unnecessary roadblocks for employees. Windley argues that trust in employees is a prerequisite for being a good manager.

“That is something I would look for as I evaluate managers,” he says. “I would argue that that’s one of those traits that separates good leaders from poor.”

That said, it’s still important to have mechanisms in place to make sure employees stay on track, which is why a focus on the results is important.

Check In, But Don’t Micromanage

Though you don’t need to be on top of employees, it’s also important to stay connected when you’re physically separated. Windley recommends managers have weekly check-ins with direct reports, during which managers ask how their employees are doing, if they need anything, and what progress they’ve made on projects they’re working on. Weekly check-ins are frequent enough to stay connected and should be used to help employees instead of as a way to keep a close eye on them.

“If you hire people that want to perform, your job is to help them get roadblocks out of their way and give them the tools they need,” Windley says.

Get to Know Your Team

Do what you can to accommodate the preferences of each direct report. For example, one employee may prefer Zoom calls to discuss a project, while another would rather get a quick status update by email; one employee may prefer to stay totally remote, while another might want to come into the office a few times a week. Accommodating reasonable requests instead of sticking to one workflow will give employees the freedom to work in a way that’s most efficient for them.

“It starts with asking and understanding if someone has different preferences in the way they want to be communicated to,” Windley says.

In addition, ask employees for feedback on your performance as a manager through surveys or evaluations. From there, you’ll have a clearer picture of what you can do differently to help each employee thrive.

This is the first in our three-part series about the flexible workplace. Read part 2 about assessing staff needs regarding flexibility, and be sure to check out part 3, on flextime.

(Charles-Édouard Côté/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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