Developing a strong workforce with customized schedules is both simple and complex. It revolves around simple concepts, such as creating defined work agreements that play to the organization’s needs and to the individual’s strengths. However, varying schedules can be challenging to implement. But it’s worth it. Keep in mind the respect has to go both ways, respecting both the organization’s needs and the individual’s needs. The organizational goals, and the individual’s goals. Therefore, we have a variety of team members; some people work part-time; some are full-time; some are volunteers; some are consultants, interns, and paid interns. The most important element emphasized at UniversalGiving is trust and longterm relationships, not whether someone fits into a perfect mold.
How do you go about creating an efficient, effective and customized workplan for your team? One might think it’s just easier to have a uniform policy and apply it across the board. And sometimes, that does work best. It’s hard to manage people coming in at different times of days, different days, according to different hours. The consequence is that it can also be equally hard if you don’t listen to your employees’ preferences and how they work best.
Here’s a shot at what we do, in process, when working with our team. Keep in mind that this type of customization is changing. Stay on the pulse!
Honor Service and Team Work
First, we do have a baseline principles in service. We have operating hours from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. We have a commitment of client service that we need to maintain for our public users, corporate clients, NGOs, donors and volunteers. Our rule is that we have coverage to maintain this communication, accessibility, and commitment to excellence in our relationships. So we might not have everyone here from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but we most certainly have different people providing coverage during that time. It’s a key difference.
Additionally, it also has to do with effective teamwork. We need to discuss and collaborate across business units. Unexpected issues can surmount during the day. For UniversalGiving, a new natural disaster or crisis will necessitate immediate collaboration across our NGO and Marketing teams. This is often easier done in person, with discussions in person, especially when it involves multiple people and cross-department collaboration.
Finally, it’s critical to build and maintain a solid team. It’s simply pleasant to build practical, strong communications, as well as solid, long-term relationships, in office, where you can. So many people talk about the importance of building a good team. This is true. But what we don’t note is that we also have to “practice” being a team. It’s like any other sports team: you have to practice. And we “practice” by weakening or strengthening each of our communications on a daily basis. This type of communication is often, but not always, best in person.
Meet the Individual’s Needs
Therefore, having operating hours, establishing effective teamwork and building a successfully communicating team are essential.
So we’ve covered the above organizational goals and needs. Then, critically important, we address the needs of each team member. We listen to our team members and then assess what would be the most productive work environment, hours and schedule for them and for us. For example, one very strong and committed team member, Cheryl, works 2 hours away from the office in Sacramento. She works from home, and comes in twice per month for team meetings.
Because of the commute, she can only work about six hours on the days she’s in the office. She requested to work fewer hours on those days as she values her balance, and she works extremely hard every other hour of the week. A ten hour day doesn’t fit with her goals. We discussed options, and that was her choice: Outside of her paid position at UniversalGiving, she’s an aspiring novelist, and needs to focus on writing at night. We try to honor this goal and respect her time.
Cheryl is indeed special. She’s proven her work ethic. Her volume of work accomplished is laudable. In fact, she’s more productive staying focused at home. She’s our premier writer, so we want her focused at the computer and not distracted. She’s a very good communicator and extremely responsive via email. So she contributes to our team in an important, but different, manner. She has an extremely effective and engaging way of communicating on email, so you feel it almost is in person; therefore she is a strong contributor to our culture. Most importantly, she’s top notch ethical. We trust her and love having her on the team for the so many valuable qualities mentioned above.
Sofia was a stellar in-office volunteer with us, with whom we have wonderful values alignment. She then got a job, but wanted to continue working with us. So we created a special role for her: She interviews and screens all of our potential interns; reviews writing samples; and holds phone interviews. She can do this evenings and weekends. She’s an extremely important ‘first line’ for us, ensuring we have new team members and is also a protection to our positive culture.
Listening also goes up the scale of the organization. Our COO moved to Spain to be with her family. We like to honor that commitment. Family is critical to who we are; the health of the individual. We don’t want to get in the way of family or relationships; however, it must be said, that that person must be trusted, have a long-term track-record, and their duties must be able to be accomplished wherever they are. We assess each person, each case, situationally.
Now we can lead into some special case scenarios. One of the most relevant examples I can think of of truly listening to your employees is Maternity Leave.
Maternity Leave: Don’t Tell the CEO When You Are Coming Back
As CEO, I actually don’t want to know when you’re coming back.
Don’t tell me.
Because in all honesty? You don’t know. At this time, you probably don’t know what is best for you, and best for your family. And what is best for you, will most positively effect UniversalGiving as well.
When you do come back, I want you excited and refreshed to come back. Not due to a forced timeline. You most likely will feel differently than you thought! Have your baby, nurture your family, and when it is right, we look forward to and welcome you back warmly. Our COO expected to be back from maternity leave in June, but is only just coming back now in January. There should be a naturalness when people return.
Having given successful examples, I can tell you that there are times when this is not optimal. In large part, this has to do with the lack of integrity from the individual in not working, not achieving their goals, and not communicating. There most certainly has to be mutual respect, a consistent work ethic, a fine track record, and a long-term relationship to make customized work schedules….actually work.
Honor Each Other
I hope we can all encourage each other to be fresh and energized–whether that’s a question of coming back from maternity leave, or of getting away from work in the evening and weekends. We need to be renewed. We need to feel honored as whole, functioning people with families, outside interests, balanced lives as well as our commitment to achieving the goals and vision of the organizations for whom we work. When people feel their work lifestyle ‘fits’ them, and that you honor them fully as an individual, then they will be even more inspired to help with the vision. It’s truly not about work. It’s about honoring each other’s life purpose.
Listen. Customize. Create and maintain a happier, productive team. In so doing, your organizational goals will be honored, as well as the goals of each team member.