01/05/2012 10:41 am ET Updated Mar 06, 2012

10 Flex Mistakes You Didn't Know You Made

Building a truly flexible workplace is hard. It takes a lot of time, patience and dedication to a goal that can sometimes feel elusive. Many organizations think the work stops once they approve a flex, but really it's just beginning. Read on to see if you've made any of these implementation mistakes.

1. You Focused on What, Not How. You thought through the compliance and policy issues around flex but didn't give enough thought to corporate culture.

What to do about it: Policies are only the first step. Begin implementing change management strategies by addressing people issues, communicating the business case, and creating an infrastructure for support and training.

2. You Sold Leadership on a Project. Too often leaders believe that they can simply "check the box" on flex: But workplace flexibility requires real culture change. It's a multi-year process that needs an ongoing resource commitment.

What to do about it: Conduct an engagement survey and use the results to reengage your leadership. Craft a multi-year strategy focused on promoting flex and solidifying new ways of working. Secure their commitment to resources over 3-5 years, even when the change gets tough.

3. You Didn't Measure. You crafted a solid business case to sell your leadership on flexibility. Flex would lower turnover, improve productivity, increase retention! But now you can't prove that flex is working and leadership is reluctant to commit more resources.

What to do about it: Identify success metrics that align with the organization's strategic goals and are meaningful to your managers. Find "bright spots" - places where flex is working and compare to the metrics of non-flexing business units. Start benchmarking so you can report future results.

4. You Went it Alone. You didn't engage a steering committee and now your program has stalled for lack of buy-in.

What to do about it: Build a steering committee with people from a range of departments. Find out what they think the barriers are and what flex should look like for your organization. View your policy as evolving and improve it as you go.

5. You Skipped the Training. You educated everyone on the new flex policy, but focused more on the "rules" than on helping people improve communication, connection and performance in a flex environment.

What to do about it: Offer manager and team training. Make an ongoing investment, and incorporate remote/flexible team training into your onboarding, new leader, and management skills training.

6. You Didn't Hold Managers Accountable. Managers don't have to implement flex if they don't want to, and you have pockets of the organization where employees aren't provided any opportunity to flex.

What to do about it: Implement benchmarks and help managers choose business-driven metrics that will help them measure the impact of flex on their teams. Implement accountability partners and tie flex participation to managers' compensation.

7. You Didn't Formalize Flex. You think ad hoc flex is enough, so you opted against formalizing your policy. Managers see flex as an accommodation, not a business strategy, and inconsistent implementation is opening the business to discrimination concerns.

What to do about it: Identify the cost of the status quo (informal flex) to senior leadership (e.g. caregiver discrimination liability, retention threats, employee engagement erosion). Use focus groups and an advisory committee to find out what's working and what isn't. Use that input to craft a formal flex policy and an implementation plan. Communicate corporate expectations.

8. You Kept It A Secret. People either don't know that flex is an option at your company, or they are afraid to bring it up. You haven't gotten past that "Will this hurt my career?" hurdle.

What to do about it: Ask all employees to set both work-life and professionals goals, and make those conversations part of the annual performance review. Work with corporate communications to craft an annual communications plan with regular newsletter tips, success stories, and messages of commitment from leadership.

9. You Didn't Invite Everyone. Flex is doing well in certain departments or with certain population groups, but it isn't available to most employees.

What to do about it: Think creatively. Ask employees to help problem-solve. If they can't flex their hours, figure out if some other kind of scheduling arrangement would benefit them--perhaps self-scheduling or shift trading. Leverage leaders in the flexible work groups to advocate for widespread adoption.

10. You Didn't Support Your Managers. Your managers don't understand how flex could work for their departments. Given the needs and constraints of their business, they've opted against flex.

What to do about it: Look to those managers that are flexing successfully. Share their success stories. Offer quarterly training, small group information sharing, or manager coaching. Supplement those services with on-demand learning tools so managers are continually reminded and supported.