A flexible workplace is one of the most talked about things in talent management and the corporate world right now.

Flexibility in the workplace is something the majority of Millennial employees don’t just prefer, but in many ways are demanding.

WorkplaceTrends.com, in collaboration with CareerArc, released the results of a study entitled the “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study.”

The study looked at 1,087 professionals from across the U.S., who were both employed and unemployed. 67 percent of HR professionals included in the study said they felt their employees enjoyed a sense of work-life balance. 45 percent of workers said they didn’t have enough time every week to engage in personal activities. A whopping 75 percent of respondents said flexibility was their number one desired work benefit.

The Benefits of Flexibility

A flexible work environment isn’t just catching on because it’s beneficial to employees—employers also see it as advantageous.

A few ways offering workplace flexibility is useful for businesses include:

  • Employees who enjoy flexible options tend to feel as if their employer trusts and respects them. This can go a long way in improving productivity, reducing turnover and creating a workplace that breeds more engaged talent.
  • Employers offering flexibility tend to enjoy reduced costs associated with sick or unwell employees.
  • Flexibility is a great recruitment strategy when you’re seeking top talent, particularly Millennials. It’s one of the prime recruiting tools used by some of the world’s most successful companies right now.

The Training Challenge

While the list above only represents a small portion of the many benefits of workplace flexibility, for both employees and employers, offering these options is not without challenges.

One of the challenges of flexibility is that many employees may say they love the idea of it, but few of them actually take advantage of these options when offered.

This is most likely because they’re not sure how to make use of flex work options without seeming like they’re not dedicated to their jobs.

There appears to be a disconnect between the availability of flexibility and training for employees as to how to utilize it.

Another challenge tends to be management. To help your management team advance, see these leadership training videos.

While upper-level executives and HR employees may espouse the benefits of flexibility, mid-level managers may not be onboard, or they may not have the training necessary to handle it.

Both of these significant hurdles come down to one simple fact: flexibility is great, but there needs to be employee training that goes with a smooth implementation of these options and benefits.

A study conducted by Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc. showed that while 97 percent of surveyed respondents said they had some level of workplace flexibility, only 40 percent received training or guidance as to how to utilize said flexibility.

Employees who did receive training on flexibility had a much higher feeling of control over their job and also felt more commitment to the flexibility they were being offered. In organizations with a  lack of flex-centric training, employees felt employers were less committed to the idea.

Training on the Benefits of Flexibility

To create a culture that values workplace flexibility, training is a necessity.

One of the first things to train all employees on is the benefits of this type of work environment. It’s important for each and every employee, from the top down, to have an understanding of how these changes will benefit them.

The first step of flexibility training is to provide employees with e-Learning modules that give a broad knowledge base as to how the entire organization, as well as each element of the business, will benefit from said training.

This will start engaging employees and getting them feeling energized and excited about the prospect of flexible options.

One element that can be good to include in manager training is case studies. These tend to provide managers who may otherwise be reluctant to embrace these concepts with concrete evidence as to how they work and are beneficial.

Manager Training

There are a few key areas where manager training needs to focus in a flexible work environment.

The first is in performance management and the second is in communication.

Performance management only applies to managers, while communication training is important for all employees in a flexible workplace. Interpersonal skills development for your team is also an area of significant importance.

Mid-level managers are likely used to managing employees in a traditional and particular way. It’s simple to check-in with employees, see what’s happening on a day-to-day basis, gauge employee success or failure and provide feedback. In a flexible work environment, this becomes more challenging, although with proper training it’s also manageable.

Training managers on performance includes structuring how regular check-ins will be conducted with employees who may telecommute, participate in job sharing options, participate in phased-out retirement or who may work a compressed week. Just as in the traditional office environment, there should be specific check-in channels in place.

Also, train managers on what success in a flexible work environment looks like, versus a non-flex environment.

To provide this kind of training for mid-level managers, it’s important for C-suite executives and organizational leaders to have a clear idea of what this success will look like.

Other training should focus on how to keep remote or flex employees engaged, how to measure whether or not they’ve met certain objectives, and how to maintain a sense of team and collaboration in a unique work atmosphere.

e-Learning and the use of a learning management system have proven to be excellent training tools in innovative and flexible workplaces not only for the training of managers but also for the training of employees.

Group of business people joining hands.

Communication Training

Along with training managers in areas such as performance management, communication training is vital for all stakeholders.

Training should focus on not only how managers reach out to employees, but also how employees communicate with coworkers, particularly since working in a digital environment can lead to confusion or misconstrued information.

Using e-Learning to Train in a Flexible Environment

When employees are working remotely or working a unique schedule, it can be a challenge to adequately train them not only in how to make flexibility work, but also generalized training and development.

Using a learning management system allows for a sense of training flexibility that aligns with other elements of a flexible workplace.