Many organizations are shifting back to working in the office after the pandemic. As this happens, managers are facing new challenges. Some team members want continued work-from-home or other flexible work arrangements. Others are excited to be back in the office. As a manager, how do you ensure everyone is treated fairly, and that productivity continues?

How To Support Flexible Work So You and Your Team Win

Decision-making is difficult under normal circumstances. In times of uncertainty, it can be soul-crushingly hard. One of the difficult decisions leaders face right now has to do with work location. How to create fair and equitable arrangements for working from home vs. working in the office? On the one hand, you want to be accommodating and meet the different needs of your team members. On the other hand, the pressure to perform is high. You need people to coordinate and collaborate. You worry that having some people at the office, and some at home, will reduce productivity. It’s a lot to balance.

Some managers are becoming overly rigid and demanding in the face of this challenge. They believe the easiest solution is to put in a one-size-fits-all policy. The problem is that one size rarely fits all. The result?

  • Reduced Engagement
  • Higher turnover
  • Decreased performance

Today, I want to share 2 strategies for decision-making. With any luck, they’ll help you find alternatives to one-size-fits-all. Their aim is to build engagement, foster trust and drive the results that will move you – and your team – forward.

Criteria-Based Decision Making

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek first introduced this concept in his famous 2009 Ted Talk. It’s even more relevant today. People need to understand the “why” behind decisions that affect them.

It happens more often than we might like to admit. Managers make decisions they feel are right, but have difficulty articulating their rationale. That’s where criteria-based decision-making comes into play.

This framework ranks options based on variables that are important to the organization. It’ll help you:

  • Explore the situation
  • Assess relevant factors
  • Weigh the pros and cons
  • Make confident selections
  • Articulate the “why”

Criteria-based decision-making helps you connect the dots in a way that makes sense.

Here’s how it could apply to decisions about work-from-home or other flexible arrangements. Start by engaging your team in exploring the situation. Identify the various needs and requirements on the team. This includes the company’s need for productivity. What are you being asked to deliver, and what will it take to make that happen? It also includes exploring individuals’ needs for flexible work. What accommodations will help them meet family and personal obligations, so that they can be fully focused while at work?

Then, use this exploration to identify criteria and parameters for flexible work.

The answer might be a set of ground rules that looks something like this:

  • We need to be able to be together in the office 2 days per week, to focus on [these activities].
  • On the other days, each team member can choose where to work.
  • Regardless of work location, everyone needs to be available to respond to message between [these hours].
  • Unless otherwise requested, emails require a 24-hour response time. Phone calls and IM’s require a response by the end of the work day.
  • Everyone on the team is to complete a brief report on Friday to share their progress on our key initiatives.

Engaging team members in identifying them creates a sense of shared ownership. It facilitates collaboration and increases trust. Being part of the process means team members are more likely to understand and own the decisions. This produces better outcomes.

Clear Expectations Tied to Clear Outcomes

As the manager, you do retain some control. You have the final say about the criteria and norms the team sets. For this approach to work, you’ll need to hold team members accountable. You’ll need to provide feedback when someone isn’t following the established ground rules. After all, ground rules only work if they’re enacted.

Imagine yourself blindfolded trying to hit a piñata. If you played this game as a child, you know the odds of hitting the target are slim. Giving directions to staff without communicating the intended goal is the same. The probability they’ll meet the company’s objectives without a clear path to follow is minimal. Think of ground rules and expectations as a road map that helps people know what they need to do.

Every expectation you set needs to be anchored in a clear “why.” Connect the dots between expectations and goals, so people see how they contribute. Help them feel that they’re part of a bigger picture. In setting ground rules for flexible work, the rationale can focus on coordination. How does working in a certain way streamline the team’s efforts? How does it drive results?

Creating a Learning Organization

When people understand the “why” and participate in making tradeoffs associated with a given decision, they are better able to use their judgement. They can apply the criteria and reasoning as new situations arise. This is at the heart of creating a learning organization. With time, new variables or scenarios may emerge that you hadn’t considered. Even as you define criteria and parameters, there will be unknowns. You can feature this by agreeing on check-points for reevaluating your decisions. Frame them as “experiments” and include milestones for gathering data about their effectiveness. Test your assumptions. Experimentation supports innovation. It keeps the company moving ahead, not only in the product and services provided but also in how people work.

Just as important, this approach frees up your time. You’ll can be less involved in the day-to-day decisions. It builds trust. Employees see you looking out for their interests, alongside the company’s needs. That leads to better engagement, retention, and satisfaction. Reduced turnover increases productivity and reduces costs. All of that leads to better outcomes for your team, and more opportunities for you in your career.

Want to learn more about how you can build trust, engagement and productivity on your teams? Let’s talk

We’ll get on the phone for about 45 minutes to discuss your current situation, and your career goals. We’ll identify the most important next steps you can take to achieve them. If I can support you on that journey, I’ll let you know that, and we’ll talk about what that could look like. If not, I’ll point you to other resources. Either way, my goal is to make our call together one of the most valuable hours you’ve spent on your career.

I can’t wait to talk with you!

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