It's no secret: I'm a big advocate of flexible workplace policies. As the mother of four little girls and the founder of a company with employees across the country, I believe that it's both smart and sometimes necessary to give employees options.
Geographic and temporal flexibility goes a long way particularly in helping working parents and caregivers. In fact, the lack of flexible work options is one of the primary reasons I left corporate America.
I lasted less than three years as a mother in an office environment that required me to be at my desk eight hours a day, every day. Why? Because rigid work hours and location-dependent policies are detrimental to those who bear caregiving responsibilities (and to those who breastfeed, for that matter). I argue it's one of the thousand paper cuts that cause 43 percent of highly educated women to leave their jobs after becoming mothers. Flexible work is a saving grace to working caregivers, the vast majority of whom are women.
There are many other reasons to embrace "telecommuting." To name a just few, research suggests that flex-work increases productivity, reduces the carbon footprint of vehicle commuting, improves employee morale and stress levels, and may even decrease turnover.
Here is some low-hanging fruit to start the transition to a flexible work culture:
Add virtual conferencing features to every single meeting you schedule.
My company the Riveter uses Google Hangouts. It's free and supports both videoconferencing and good old dial in from a phone if you're on the go. You can also look to tools like Zoom or Skype.
Invest in workplace collaboration software.
I'll admit, this one has been hard for me. I'm old-fashioned in that I actually like email and phone calls. (What can I say? I was an attorney for 10 years.) But I can't deny the advantages to quick communication and seamless collaboration that software provides. The options are endless: Slack, Basecamp, Teams, Airtable. You're bound to have options to fit your needs.
Designate a central block of time daily for meetings, if that's feasible.
In the first two years of the Riveter, we scheduled all internal calls and meetings between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. In full transparency, this has not worked as we've scaled and expanded into four time zones. But, when we had the policy, it provided flexibility of schedule for our employees juggling caregiving responsibilities.
In a digital-heavy world, embrace phone calls.
This might be an unpopular opinion, but phone calls can be so much more efficient in delivering quick and easy information. Even with open office floor plans, it's amazing to me how resistant we are to walking over to ask a question or relay a thought to a colleague. Encourage picking up the phone to avoid lengthier back-and-forth exchanges behind a screen.
Remember that community matters, even if you cannot be together in person.
You can "co-work" on Google Hangouts, continue to engage in office-cooler type conversations in the digital space, and check in on one another's well being. We actually have a #watercooler channel on the Riveter Slack channel -- it's been great at fostering a sense of togetherness for our increasingly distributed team.
It's our responsibility as business owners to anticipate and meet the needs of our workforce. By doing so, we protect our customers, we protect our business, and we protect jobs.