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Look to the gridiron for flexible workplace execution

4 min read


Designing and implementing a successful workplace flexibility program is a team effort. Since my favorite sport is football, I like to think of the CEO like that widely-respected coach who builds a winning culture and the senior human resources leader as the talented, calm-in-the-clutches quarterback.

Here are four additional lessons that football can teach us about effective workflex programs:

Recruiting is job No. 1. In the spirit of Jim Collins’ classic business book, “Good to Great,” get the right people on the bus — or field, as it were. Working flexibly or remotely isn’t for everyone. As such, be sure to evaluate the competence of possible candidates – i.e. do they possess the necessary skills, experience, talents, expertise, and track record of results to be successful in a flexible work situation? This involves intellectual and emotional components, hard technical skills, and soft people skills or EQ. What are the criteria for eligibility and how will you evaluate new and existing employees who want to work flexibly? Job role, length of service, performance history, aptitude for online collaboration/ communication technology tools, and willingness to return to a normal work schedule, if it doesn’t work out, are among the relevant criteria to consider. Also weigh character – does the person have the work habits, integrity, and drive to work independently AND the teamwork orientation to collaborate effectively?

Have a thorough playbook.  Many companies I have seen ended up with some disjointed version of a flexwork program through management by exception – i.e. offering it every so often as an accommodation to valued employees who might otherwise leave. That approach is a recipe for inconsistency, confusion, and disgruntled staff. Instead, design and codify a thoughtful set of policies and procedures that address program philosophy and guidelines, eligibility requirements, expectations, and measures for success. Also, just as exciting football teams employ a wide range of running and passing plays, your flexibility program should offer an array of options that are viable at the individual, team, and organization level.

Don’t underestimate the importance of special teams. IT is much like special teams in that it’s a less sexy area that normally doesn’t get the big headlines or accolades, but winning or losing a big game often comes down to their execution, or lack thereof (just ask any Florida State University fan about their “Wide Right/Left” legacy). In order to tee up a highly distributed workforce for success, it’s essential to provide the best technology tools for accessing, sharing, and managing information and institutional knowledge. Some not-so-sexy yet critically important IT considerations relevant to remote workers include:

  • Defining supported technologies, devices, and software — BYOD or provided by business? Third-party cloud applications allowed or only org-approved software? Standards for installing updates?
  • Outlining procedures for backup and security of data. How will you ensure remote workers are backing up company information at server level rather than locally on their desktops? How will your remote workers securely access the company server?
  • Setting up standards for device maintenance and processes troubleshooting.  How often will you replace devices for remote workers? Is tech support in-house or outsourced? How will you staff tech support to support the needs of remote workers across different time zones and languages?

A fun tailgate never hurt anyone. Just as tailgate parties get a fan base excited, get your employee base pumped up with compelling internal communication and special events. Acceptance and commitment to an effective flexwork program is built into organizational culture, and as I wrote in a prior SmartBlog piece, companies whose brands and cultures are co-created typically achieve unparalleled success. It is also important to create a sense of community and esprit de corps among highly distributed workers by organizing some in-person gatherings and/or through creative use of technology. The ability to connect with others and build relationships inside and outside immediate teams creates cohesion and increases employees’ sense of ownership and empowerment.

Who is the Peyton Manning or Tom Brady of your organization to lead this charge? Down, set, hut.

Shani Magosky is an executive coach and flexible workplace consultant. Previously, she worked at Goldman Sachs, at a local TV station in Vail, Colo., and as chief operating officer/chief financial officer of an all-virtual international marketing company. Her firm, Vitesse Consulting, helps companies accelerate development of leaders, engage employees, and improve performance. She can be reached at [email protected] or (970) 376-1860.