As a companion piece to our Sept. 1 cover story, Balancing act, work-life fit expert Cali Williams Yost authored this article to show how one employer embedded flexibility training into its employee development programs. —Andrea Davis, Managing Editor

Twenty years ago, clocks and walls told your employees where work ended and the other parts of their life began. Today, for many, those clocks and walls have disappeared as technology continues to explode and the global economy demands more from fewer resources. 

As a result, people struggle to perform their best, on and off the job, day-to-day, and at major life transitions. Organizations and individuals have to adapt to this new work and life reality, but how?

Motivated to reduce turnover in a highly competitive industry, improve productivity and reduce costs, a U.S. based professional services firm with 2,500 employee asked us to help them formulate a more strategic response to work and career flexibility.

The goal was to help employees not only manage their work-life fit better and smarter, but also to improve the firm’s talent recruitment, retention, engagement, client service, business continuity and cost management. Within three years of initiating this shift in culture, the firm appeared for the first time on a number of prestigious “best of” lists. What did they do?

The partnership that the firm established with its employees, up front, was one of the keys to success. The firm created a culture that supported both the small, day-to-day “tweaks,” and more formal “resets” in the way work could be done, but it trained its employees to take the lead. Everyone learned how to reach out, capture the informal and formal flexibility the firm offered to “tweak and reset” their work-life fit in a way that met their needs and the realities of their jobs.

To make the point that knowing how to flexibly manage your work-life fit was critical to the success of the strategy, the firm embedded flexibility and work-life fit “how-to” training throughout its development curriculum. And they leveraged the following live and electronic learning platforms to reinforce the message: 

Live firm-wide office orientations: After 18 months of research and development, the firm’s work and career flexibility strategy was ready to launch. To ensure that everyone at all levels and across offices received a consistent message, a member of the professional staff from each office was paired with a local HR leader.

These pairs were trained to co-facilitate a live, interactive training for their respective offices over a three-month period. The training explained the goals and guidelines of the flexibility strategy and the work-life fit “tweaks and resets” skill set.

After the sessions were completed, the professional staff member/facilitator became the office “flex lead.” He or she provided invaluable boots-on-the-ground insight and support to the leaders of the firm-wide initiative.

E-learnings to support key concepts on the firm’s intranet portal: After the firm-wide launch, employees and managers could refer to a series of e-learning modules to refresh their “how-to” knowledge. Each module was approximately 15 minutes in length and walked step-by-step through the process to flexibly “tweak” your work-life fit day-to-day with informal flexibility, and to propose, approve and review a formal work-life fit “reset” plan.

Relevant references in the firm’s standard technical training curriculum: To reinforce that flexibility is part of the business, and not just a stand-alone perk or benefit, the firm took an interesting step. It reviewed its entire technical training curriculum for all levels and all businesses. Then, where appropriate, embedded relevant references to how flexibility in the way work is done could solve a problem or improve the business. For example, in first-level manager training on workflow management, the impact on employee work-life fit and flexibility was referenced.

Webinars to share success stories and address challenges: A year after the initial orientation, the firm produced a series of webinars. Each webinar focused on a different level of flexibility and work-life fit “how-to” readiness, and used success stories from across the firm to illustrate key concepts. One webinar focused on getting started, while another addressed more advanced applications such as improved client service, project management, and talent recruitment and retention. Employees and leaders used the live forums to ask questions and resolve challenges. Each webinar was recorded and archived on the flexibility portal for future access.

Live Yammer chats targeting specific issues and demographics: How do you manage your work-life fit in busy season? What are the special challenges parents face fitting work and life together at the firm? These issues were addressed in a series of live Yammer chats. The leader in charge of the firm’s flexibility strategy facilitated each chat on the organization’s internal social media platform, Yammer. At a pre-arranged time, the leader posted questions every few minutes in a private group forum. Group participants would respond, share tips and experiences around a common issue. 

This is an example of how one professional services firm leveraged the power of live and virtual learning to ensure the consistent roll out and reinforcement of its flexibility strategy and work-life fit how-to skill set.

Offering flexibility not enough

But as the boundaries between work and life continue to disappear and employees struggle to perform their best on and off the job, more organizations will face the same challenge. Simply offering greater flexibility in how, when and where work is done won’t be enough. 

Targeting a multi-layered development curriculum that trains everyone to partner with the organization, capture the flexibility offered and use it to tweak and reset the way work fits into their life — day-to-day and at major life transitions — is the key to flexible work success.

Cali Williams Yost is the CEO and founder of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit and the author of the recently released book Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day (Center Street/Hachette, 2013).

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