With the business landscape constantly changing, having flexibility in your business is a big key to success. So, with that in mind, I have reached out to the CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to find out their best advice for increasing flexibility in business. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
“Don’t Over-Commit: If you’re starting or expanding a business, only purchase the amount of space you need. Skip signing the long-term lease on 10,000 square feet; in an uncertain economy, who knows where business will take you? Instead, if you are two people, sign a flexible agreement that provides enough space for you both and the ability to grow as needed. Why be locked into a long-term, expensive lease?”
1. Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3
Having worked with companies/clients, employees and employers who were inflexible, what I like to hear and what I offer to all is: Here's what we can offer you, A, B, or C. Which works best for you? Or if you prefer, Door #1, Door #1 or Door #3.
That allows the other person to not only be at choice, but to then take responsibility for their choosing.
And who doesn't like options in their life, both personal and professional?
2. Make Staff into Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs are willing to take on a venture or enterprise and accept full responsibility for the outcome. Ownership and responsibility create flexibility. If all of your staff thinks as entrepreneurs, they will be flexible enough to handle any situation, because they accept responsibility for the outcome.
3. Flex It at Home
As a business owner who works long busy hours, at least over 60 hours per week, I learn to be flexible with my employees. I use flex time with my employees to do some of their work at home. As long as they get the work in by the deadline and I have time to review it, it makes for a happy employee. If they need to stay at home for any reason and can still get the work done and log in those hours, it works for all concerned.
4. Who is in the Office or Not?
A great tactic for increasing flexibility in your business and also increasing quality while reducing costs is to hire virtual assistants. VAs today can do everything from Quick Books to graphic artwork to social media, so look where you need specific help and hire a VA. In some cases, you might need several.
This idea creates flexibility and cost savings, while increasing the quality of the work product.
5. Build on Trust
In order to build flexibility into your business, you must first learn to trust your employees. If you want to provide flexible work hours or let them work from home, do you trust the fact that the work will get done on time? To build trust, get to know your employees on a personal level. Have you met their family? If not, have them over for dinner. Once you build a friendship with them, then you can move on to trusting them. A trial run of working flexibly is a good starting place.
6. Don't "Silo" Your Employees
Don't "silo" your employees; cross train them instead. They will learn new skills and be able to step in if a colleague leaves the company for another job, or becomes ill and is absent for an extended period of time.
7. Home Sweet Home
I have a virtual company, so my employees and contractors all get to work from home, which they love. There are a lot of businesses that are pro or against working from home and I am definitely pro. My employees and contractors love it and I find that they are very productive.
8. Strategy Based Flexibility
The key to remaining flexible is committing to a marketing strategy that informs all of your tactical decisions. All too often in today’s online business environment, novice entrepreneurs fall victim to trendy tactics that do not add anything relevant to their strategic goals. Facebook, Twitter, etc. may be great for some companies, but are they great for you? Without a strategy, your decisions are arbitrary, but first, you have to know what strategy means.
9. Move It and Shake It
There are no break times at Write Ahead. Instead, we are learning to recognize when we're having trouble staying focused and when that happens, it's time to get up and move around! I personally like to put a catchy tune on and dance, or drop 20 pushups. Others grab a coffee or go for a quick stroll around the block.
It's a great way to get a few minutes of exercise in and refocus on work. Whether they need 5 or 15 minutes, flexible break times are one of our keys to productivity.
10. Create Leverage in Your Biz
To increase flexibility in your business, consider creating and launching a group program online. Working with a group can be more efficient than taking on additional private 1:1 clients. The successful launch of a group program will increase your revenue, leverage your time, grow your business and provide greater flexibility.
11. Flexibility with Planning
The best way to add flexibility to your work environment is to work with a schedule and by your calendar. This might seem counter intuitive at first, but the more structured you are in your day, the more flexible it allows you to be with all of your time because you know exactly what you're doing with your productive work time. Having a plan and working your plan allows you to be more flexible and more productive - all at the same time.
12. Let Tools do the Work for You!
There are a variety of tools you can use that will keep working when you're away, which can help you keep a flexible schedule. With Hootsuite, you can schedule social media updates in advance, which makes it look like you're Tweeting (even if you're on a beach sipping on a margarita, far away from any wireless signal).
Boomerang for Gmail is equally awesome, and allows you to schedule emails and follow ups in advance. It'll also help you clear out your inbox.
13. Let Your Talent Have Control
From the classroom to the boardroom, the biggest mistake being made is to try to force everyone to fit the same mould. We lose creativity and innovation by doing so, and if you really want the best talent, you put them in control. Let them give you what they're able in terms of how much they work and when, rather than forcing everyone to punch a clock to be at your disposal. Encourage collaboration, team effort, and creative approaches. Reward efficiency and solution-driven effort. Be different.
14. Collaborate and Connect
Real flexibility heightens personal empowerment, innovation and productivity. But the challenge is to make sure that employees stay part of the larger team and mission. So, to be the truly flexible business with the great ideas, have Collaboration Days weekly where your employees get to meet with their colleagues, plug back in, and move great ideas and projects forward. Collaborate and Connect - this is what makes flexibility work and what will keep your business evolving as market needs shift!
15. CC, BCC, and Reply All!
We've often found that 95% of issues that arise within our business come from a lack of knowledge between employees. The best way to solve this issue has been to increase intra-office communications. We're not large enough, yet, for a full-scale intranet deployment, so right now, we simply make sure that every email, which even just may concern someone down the line, is sent with CC'ing, BCC'ing, and Reply All'ing as often as possible.
16. Bend Your Ears
Flexibility demands active listening to what is actually being said all of the time. Unfortunately, too many people hear only a little, because they are mentally preparing their responses and fail to accurately hear the entire communication. Also, being inflexible as to one's beliefs (a.k.a. closed mind) prohibits flexibility as well. Remember, we have two ears and one mouth for a very good reason.
17. Bending the Rules
What used to be considered the business norm or standard really has changed. Why do Google and several other prominent brands revolve their models around flexibility? They know that in order to be competitive and relevant, you have to change. My suggestion: continue to build relationships while incorporating the technology.
18. A Paradigm Shift
A paradigm shift in assigning titles will create a flexible work environment. An innovative way to excite my workforce and create flexibility is to give everyone the same title with an enhancement. Example: Director- Everyone is a Director, but one is a Director-Administrative Services (old title - Administrative Assistant), one is Director-Customer Service (old title- Customer Service Rep). The shift creates an air of competition, as well as the flexibility to apply one’s best effort!
19. Our Modern Media and Flextime
I enjoy flex time away from the office for food and thought. Our modern media age allows us to utilize our tablets, phones and at times, help from iPhone assistant, Siri (i.e. Siri, move this appointment to that date, or take a note). Life is much better when we get out and enjoy something while flexing our work day. Try it. You can accomplish so much more when you set time each week to get out of your normal style and move work into a new setting. This kind of change will inspire better business.
20. Efficient Mobile Tech Time
Caught in a traffic jam, delayed at an airport or while waiting for an appointment, if you have your mobile devices always with you, your time can be spent effectively on business.
21. Steal & Adapt to Grow
The "steal" may have gotten your attention, yet the truth be known, most "new" ideas are innovations/improvements of someone else's existing idea. Therefore, explore other industries and markets. What are they doing that is working? Can I use all/part/some of the idea and adapt it to my business? I'm told NASA scientists watched Star Trek in the 70s to see what the writers would invent, and then tried to make the idea work! Sci-fi writers have no rules!
22. Innovation Breeds Flexibility
The very best means of increasing business flexibility is by creating a culture that supports and encourages innovation, defined as change that creates a new dimension of performance.
Innovative cultures spark creative problem solving and new ways of capitalizing on opportunities. Organizations where innovation flourishes are flexible, adaptive and quick to respond to changes in their marketplaces. Innovation changes mindsets and opens the way to achieving long-term, sustainable profitability.
23. A Three Hour Break
It might seem a little unusual, but consider giving employees one day a week that they can take a three hour break, rather than the traditional 1 hour or 15 minute version. Imagine what this might do for your workplace if everyone knew that once a week on a pre-determined and agreed to day, each person could take three hours for themselves. Maybe they could run a few errands, be able to have that doctor or dentist appointment, or attend the child's recital. Think of all the goodwill it would create!!!
Myles Miller of LeadUP
24. Fire People!
As a single practitioner, I am very flexible. No asking permission, no accounting to anyone, so my tip is to work alone; start firing people.
Thanks to: Miriam Silverberg.
25. Core Flexibility
Values-driven systems are wired for flexibility. Just like a willow trunk’s extra thickness allows its branches to move freely with the wind, a business that’s well rooted in its values has fundamental flexibility, because there’s more freedom in day-to-day decision-making. Studies confirm that values-driven cultures have higher profits, stakeholder loyalty, and innovation. Flex your flexibility muscle by developing the culture around you – start by asking questions about values.
26. Develop Well Rounded Employees
How many times have we heard the expression "sorry, it's not my department"...but what if it was? What if every employee was given an understanding of what it took to work in other departments & the authority to make rational decisions that were informed & helped the end user? What if people truly understood more than their part of the business; what if they understood THE BUSINESS- what the goals were, how it worked and how things got done? Think of the efficiencies, customer loyalty & ROI.
27. Cross Train for Flexibility
Most small businesses cannot afford a large staff. The best way to improve flexibility and lower staffing costs is to cross train employees on job functions and duties. This enables the owner/manager to redeploy human resources to handle peak work load periods, as well as vacations, illness and personal time off. Cross training also will keep your staffing costs low and improve your profitability and improve team work.
28. A High Performing Home Office
To increase flexibility in a business, we recommend setting up a high performing home office. You’ll need 2 things:
1) Technology that works well and is seamlessly integrated across all of your devices. Make sure to set up your internet and printer to work wirelessly for added flexibility!
2) A comfortable and aesthetically pleasing work space. Keep it clutter-free and inviting. Have all of the tools, files and supplies you use regularly within arm’s reach!
29. Create an Online Sales Force!
I've been able to increase my flexibility in business by creating an Affiliate Program. I pay other business website owners a generous commission on sales generated by their website or blog. My affiliates are like an extended sales force for me and my business. They offer a broader reach than I could accomplish on my own and they're at work when I'm not. Plus, they have the opportunity to earn when I do. It's a win-win!
30. Be More Awake, Aware, & Alive
Whether creating products, interacting with customers, or making decisions, the more conscious we are of our inner thoughts and feelings, as well as the more present and aware we can be in our interactions with others, the easier it is to be flexible in our business— to meet whatever’s arising in the moment with an open mind, creativity, and a quick response. The more clarity we can bring to our inner life, the more clearly we can see what our best choices are in any given business situation.
31. Communicating for New Ideas
Active listening creates flexibility because it leads to new ways to achieve goals, solve challenges and develop new opportunities. Using open-ended questions such as: "What are your ideas about this?" encourage people to discover their own ideas about a goal or challenge. Creating an environment open to new ideas brings positive solutions that did not exist before.
32. Join a Co-Op, Gain Flexibility
My one best tip to increase flexibility in a business is to join a co-op. With a co-op, you increase your business’s marketing and advertising budget because everyone shares the advertising and marketing costs. You won’t have to spend all of your time and money on marketing. Plus, a co-op opens you up to more strategic thinking people. You won’t have to brainstorm for effective and profitable ideas by yourself. A co-op will discover and implement them quicker than you could by yourself.
33. Time for Education
Workplace flexibility must work for both the employer and employee. Many times, an employee may want to pursue a higher education or learn something on the side.
Time should be granted to employees for educational opportunities. If the company expects to benefit from the education being pursued, then paying for the course, conference, or educational material should be included.
34. Structured Flexibility Rules!
Time blocking with movable "chunks" is the only way I've found that my clients and I can keep focused on things that drive the business AND accommodate the realities of our 24X7 lifestyles. 1st, define the chunks - sales, marketing, admin, providing your good/service, etc. 2nd, schedule the blocks at times that maximize your energy and business realities. 3rd, move chunks when needed. The only rule is this: everything can move, but nothing can fall off of the page. It's a zero sum game!
35. It's All in Your Hands!
One of the reasons to be self employed is so that you can call your own shots.
Monday mornings, people are starting their work week and ready for action. It's a perfect time to reach out to them to set up your appointments for Tues & Wed.
Keep Thursdays open for any Tues or Wed cancellations.
Fridays, people are already looking to get away, so it's a good time to spend in the office catching up on paperwork, as well as laying out and reviewing your plans for the next week.
36. Listen. Really Listen.
The key to a flexible business it to listen to employees, vendors, customers and partners. Everyone should be comfortable sharing their ideas and comments. While creating a cohesive environment, listening to others will spur ideas of innovation, improvements, and corrections where needed. This can be taken a step further by having company focus groups and mastermind sessions. This creates a stronger and more flexible company that will be ready for any unexpected change.
37. Flexible by Example
Many companies have flexible work arrangements for their employees. However, not everyone feels comfortable taking advantage of those arrangements. Company managers should, therefore, lead by example and access flexible work arrangements themselves. This will show employees that everyone needs some flexible time off for different arrangements. The manager should also evaluate the outcomes of flexible arrangements and look for improvements for the sake of the company and the employees.
38. Bring Your Own Device
Permitting employees to bring their personal mobile devices or laptops to work can help boost productivity and morale. It is also convenient for many employees that want to continue working from home or on the road. Many companies are implementing BYOD and employees are finding those companies more attractive to work for. Though connecting to company files and applications via personal devices poses some security risks, there are security measures that companies can take to make BYOD worthwhile.
39. Single Sign-on Saves Time
Efficient and savvy organizations save their employees time, and hassle, by allowing them to reset their network passwords via challenge questions, without asking them to contact the help desk each time there's an issue. Additionally, employing a simple to use single-sign on solution goes a long way toward helping your employees increase personal productivity, and it saves everyone time in the process. Less time spent managing passwords and password resets means more time succeeding in business.
Do you know a way to increase flexibility in business that wasn’t included? If you do, please share it below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!