How to be flexible and yet part of a team

More people want to work more flexibly – either part-time, on flexi-hours, working from home and/or in short term contract roles. And there are many advantages to doing so – not least a sense of greater freedom and control.

But there are challenges. One, in particular, is losing that sense of being part of a team. How can you really feel that you belong when everyone is working different hours and from various locations? How can you effectively collaborate? And how do you stop yourself feeling isolated or excluded?

The fact is that teams are built on trust, which can only happen if people spend time with each other. It’s hard to build bonds with people you rarely see.

Social media doesn’t always help either. When communication happens in an instant, it fuels the expectation of instant gratification. This can work against focusing on longer-term goals and projects that require team planning and greater collaboration. The climate can become reactionary, for ever just dealing with the moment at hand.

But there are ways for flexible workers to approach and overcome these obstacles:

  1. Take a good hard look at your own working style and skills. The best flexible workers tend to be self-motivated, results-driven and boast excellent communication skills. Expect to have to reach out better than an office employee. Loners may well struggle.
  2. Agree team goals and targets. Agreeing a common purpose is particularly important for virtual teams. Management and leadership experts Mind Tools recommend a ‘team charter’ as a useful way to set out a team mission and clarify roles and resources.
  3. Ensure you still meet your team face-to-face. Organise or request regular in-office meetings and be sure to attend any company social events too. Seize every opportunity available to bond.
  4. Organise regular virtual meetings and ensure that part of that time is spent catching up on personal news – family updates, birthdays etc. Show an interest in your colleagues as much as if you were in an office environment.
  5. Seek regular feedback if you are not already getting it. It’s particularly easy for home-workers to fall off the management radar in this respect. Don’t allow it to happen, or you will soon start to feel disconnected both emotionally and practically.
  6. Use a professional social network for office banter. Technology is well ahead of the game here, and there’s no excuse for not using everything at hand to replicate the chats over the water cooler.

We know that flexible working is only becoming more popular. According to recruitment firm Totum’s Business Services Salary Benchmarking Survey 2016, 57% of staff took up some form of flexible working in 2015 compared to 34% in 2013/14. These figures apply to those firms that have formal programmes in place, but there are many more also offering informal flexibility to more employees.

The flexible trend is only going to increase. According to workforce trends company, the APD Research Institute, greater freedom is likely to be a key employee focus in future. They will increasingly want to work from anywhere in the world, managing their own schedules; working where and when skills are needed rather than for one company; focusing less on managing and with a reduced importance of hierarchy; and an emphasis on working on something personally meaningful.

In this changing world, our core requirements will remain the same: the need for social interaction and being rewarded and recognised for a job well done. Keep those top of mind, and you’ll find it easier to make a success of work – whatever way you choose to do it.

Remote working, Flexible working, Teams

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