We all dream of having the perfect team -- one that turns in mind-blowing projects way before the deadline and is a standout representative of the company wherever they go. Let's admit it: we're all human and there are times when communication is lost, motivation is sparse, and emotions run high. It's completely normal, especially within a team, and those previously mentioned expectations may not always be met.
According to Richard Branson, there will be days that your team isn't 100 percent, but that's okay. In his latest interview with Stephen Dubner on the Freakonomics radio's, "Secret Life of CEOs" series, he says there is one way to ensure team loyalty and prosperity in the long run: "I just think you should treat your people in the same way that you treat your family. You should have policies that follow through with that."
He goes on to say that if people want to work from home, give them that opportunity. If they want to take time off to travel the world, then let them. Why? "People will give everything back if you give them the flexibility and treat them like adults, " says Branson.
Dubner calls Branson out (as I did in my own head), saying that if this was the case, then productivity would decrease and our economy would crash. How does this policy create loyalty and results at Virgin?
Branson simply states: "Because they feel trusted."
I ended the podcast feeling conflicted. When you're the head of a company and you're shelling out a good portion of money towards employee compensation, it seems counter-intuitive to give time off and regain responsibilities that you had hired for. So many questions loomed my head, but after mulling over it for a few days and trying to understand where Branson was coming from, it all made sense.
When is it appropriate to start giving this flexibility?
It's appropriate to give this flexibility when it's needed. Is there a new mom who's just returned from maternity leave who has admitted she would love to be around her newborn a little more in these early days? Is there an employee that has a hard time focusing in an open workspace and wants a day to work in solitude? These are appropriate times.
A good rule of thumb is to give leeway to employees who have personally discussed a conflict in which in-office appearance has reduced their productivity - something that can be measured over time and revisited after a few work from home trials.
What do you do if they take advantage of this newfound freedom?
If employees begin to take advantage of this flexibility, you'll notice it in the way they use their time as a free day off instead of a new working situation. If you don't hear from them or you notice the check-ins are arbitrary, it may be a sign that they're off interviewing or slacking off. Talk to your team about what the flexibility is meant for (meeting in the middle of a tough situation) and that you still have high expectations (deadlines are still deadlines). Remind them that you want to work with them to create a comfortable workplace.
Can all companies really afford to do this?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. For positions that require in-person or on-the-clock presence, it's hard to give this last-minute flexibility. What's the solve? Discuss a game plan for when flexibility might be needed and how you can work together to find covers and create flexibility in other areas. At the end of the day, you want to help them thrive and if it can't be granted in extra time off or work from home hours, get creative in an alternative.
Is this really the best solution to treating them like your family?
Maybe, maybe not. It's one solution. Like mentioned above, sometimes it doesn't work for a company. Focus on the general idea that although these are your employees, veer away from micromanagement and undermining their abilities. Trust that you hired well and give them space and a lifestyle to flourish. That is ultimately how loyalty and big picture results are created.