Are you flexible enough for flexible work?

The Fair Work Commission recently added a new rule about flexible work in Australia that tips the scales in favour of employees. In a nutshell, if an employee wants more flexible working hours, their boss can’t automatically refuse it. This rule applies only to awards (not individual employment contracts), and there’s no indication of when it will take effect. There’s a chance it won’t apply to your business at all. But, even if it doesn’t, it’s worth considering the principle of offering flexible work to your employees. If it was compulsory, would you be able to do it?

Here are three key things you can do right now to address this issue and prepare yourself for the workplace of the future.

1. Offer it now

Don’t wait for this ruling to take effect. Get on the front foot and start offering flexible work arrangements right now. This will help you understand what business practices you might need to change, so you can get a head start on changing them now.

That way, when it becomes law, it will already be standard in your workplace, and you’ll have employees already on your side.

I’m not saying this is easy, but preparing now will decrease the likelihood of disruption to your business. Take a look at what’s happening in workplaces across the world for inspiration.

A New Zealand company has recently introduced a four-day week permanently after its trial was a hit among employees and boosted productivity. In the UK, after a worker has completed six months continuous employment with a company, they can seek flexible working arrangements, including job sharing, part-time work or even working from home.

2. Ask them what they want

Starting early means you can ask your employees what they want in terms of flexible work. You might be surprised to discover how little they want, and how easy it is to allow it.

For example, you might think every working mum will be demanding to work school hours so she can manage school drop-offs and pick-ups. But that’s unlikely to be the case.

Working parents are extraordinarily committed and disciplined, and understand the importance of managing multiple priorities. They might have a roster with other working parents to manage school commitments, so their request for flexible work might involve, say, one day a fortnight when it’s their turn on the roster.

According to research from recruitment company Hays, flexible work is the number one benefit professionals want (73%) but only 45% of employees are ‘very satisfied’ or ‘extremely satisfied’ with their current level of work-life balance.

3. Think results, not effort

Flexible work doesn’t mean less work — it means, well, flexible work. Your employees still have the responsibility to get the work done, it just means they don’t necessarily have to do it during fixed working hours.

The trouble is many workplaces measure people by their input, not their output. If you’re obsessed with hours worked (input) rather than results achieved (output), then, of course, you will struggle with flexible work. Your entire business is based on rigid, fixed, inflexible work.  If you can change your mindset from effort to results, the problems of flexible work disappear. And, what’s more, it’s better for your business as well.

But some jobs need to be measured by hours worked (I hear you cry). And you’re right. It’s more difficult to make that switch when you need X number of people at the front desk, Y number of people answering the phones, and Z number of people assisting walk-in customers. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. To start, ask your employees themselves how they would address this problem, and ask for their help in solving it in practice.

Finally, recognise this is the way of the future. This new requirement is the most basic kind of flexible work employees will expect in the future. If you don’t adapt to even this most basic change now, you won’t have any chance when we make the inevitable shift towards freelancers, the gig economy, outsourcing, distributed teams and automation. That’s the workplace of the future, and this is just the first step.

So don’t get dragged kicking and screaming into the future. Take the first step, and be ready for the change. The future of your business depends on it.

Written by Ghan Perera for Smart Company