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Getting flexible: how to project manage non nine-fivers

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Increasingly, we are seeing more and more workers abandon the 9-5 daily grind in favour of flexible hours. With the government recognising the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance, employees now have the legislative right to request flexible hours. Whether that be on a flexitime, part time, or home working basis, more and more people are utilising their paid hours to suit the times of day they are more productive. This shift has changed how some companies approach the working day: allowing their workers to choose which hours to utilise rather than sticking to the post-industrial 8 hour working structure. One such company which has readily adopted this strategy is Virgin—and to much positive effect. Business pioneer and founder Richard Branson, gave his employees the option to set their own working hours. By “not forcing employees to work in a conventional way”, Branson claims that it has improved his employees wellbeing and has in fact increased their diligence and not disturbed their work rate. 

But what does this mean for project managers? 
Flexible working, could be seen as threatening the foundations of project management. Alarm bells must be ringing for those of us used to having everyone in the same space, focused and ready to collaboratively work toward an end goal. But, as highlighted by Penny Pullan in her virtual projects series, it is achievable: it just means that we will have to adapt to these changes. Any strategy with the potential to improve productivity should seldom be frowned upon by any project manager. With the right strategies in place, you can ensure that not only does your project run smoothly, but the outcome could even surpass anything created within the restrictive 9-5 structure. 

How to get the most out of your flexible workers.
Key to project managing teams with variable working hours, working remotely, or on a part time basis is one basic principle: planning. As with any project, it is essential to start out with a clear set of aims and KPI’s that need to be met to complete the project. Make these clear in an initial, compulsory meeting with all of your team. It is also in this meeting which you should, as far as possible, outline the exact tasks for each person. Clarifying their role within the team and how they will contribute to the end result will ensure that they stay motivated and on track: no matter which hours or location in which they are working. 

Depending on the timescale of your project, you should enforce several compulsory face to face meetings or catch ups with your team members. Despite the advantage of having independent focus when working remotely or at their most productive hours, having actual contact is essential to keep your team motivated. These team meetings will allow you to set smaller deadlines, and create a timeline of how the project should be progressing. This will also allow you to measure the success of the project so far, and ensure that anyone who is not pulling their weight can be made accountable. 

Another key advantage of the regular 9-5 working day is, of course, the opportunity to collaborate. By having the teams in the same location, at the same times of day, employees have a lot more scope to be creative and culminate on ideas. As a project manager of flexible teams, it is your job to create spaces where employees can continue to bounce ideas off of each other and exchange feedback. This could be as simple as managing your project using software such as Basecamp, or even taking to social media sites, such as Facebook or Yammer, to create private groups where all of your team can discuss the work they have been doing. By encouraging interaction, the creative element of physically having people around you will not be lost, but infact just become more organised and well recorded. 

Finally, you should anticipate that more time will be needed to collect and culminate all of your team’s independent pieces of work. Bringing together materials from those who have worked outside of the 9-5 structure could potentially yield results which do not usually match up with one another—and as project manager it is your job to iron out these differences. Go back to your initial aims, and bring your whole team together to ensure that the desired result is achieved. 

The 9-5 structure is not something which is set to completely disintegrate any time soon. It is built into our culture and society, and will be for years to come. We must acknowledge however that times are changing, and flexible working hours are becoming a frequent practice in many of our biggest industries. Rather than resent this shift, project managers should take advantage of the potential gains in their team’s productivity, efficiency, and morale that flexible working hours can afford. Flexible hours does not have to result in a weak end result, but actually benefit you and your team.  

Jade Attwood is a content marketing executive for The Formations Company.


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