The informal workplace: How far is too far?

By Robert Half on 13 May 2014

There’s a mindset nowadays that pairs stuffy dress codes and beige cubicles with a lack of innovation, instead favouring the informal workplace. But although such a workplace can spark productivity and mould happier employees, this much-hyped flexibility can sometimes go too far. Here’s our checklist for identifying when it might be time to rein in your informal workplace.

When deadlines become irrelevant

It’s no secret that micromanagement can impair your relationship with your employees, but sometimes failing to check in on a regular basis means that responsibilities and priorities begin to slide. Although casting aside formal reporting systems can work wonders for staff performance, it can also lead to missed deadlines. Keeping the lines of communication open and being transparent with your expectations are powerful ways to maintain professionalism while empowering your staff. Reaping the benefits of a more relaxed workplace doesn’t mean loosening your grip on management – it requires strong leadership to work.

When employees take a holiday from accountability

Although maintaining a flexible approach to staff and finish times can help employees harness their personal productivity levels, if it affects their ability to perform critical tasks, you’ve probably gone too far. The freedoms of an informal workplace succeed only when staff members are accountable for their performances and don’t confuse flexible working hours with an exemption from doing their jobs. Making sure your staff members know what’s expected from them and maintaining clear KPIs can prevent employees from skirting the demands of their roles. Again, trusting your staff while firmly communicating what you need from them is your key to benefiting from the best of both worlds.

When clients cling to a corporate image

Your employees may not enjoy wearing stuffy business clothing, but if you work with corporate clients on a regular basis, you can’t dismiss your professional image quite so fast. Imposing some rules around a casual dress code rather than dismissing corporate attire altogether can often be a much more effective initiative.

When working from home breeds a lack of productivity

High-speed technology has made working from home attractive for employees, but the practice is a minefield if not managed well. Although allowing your workers to turn their spare bedrooms into home offices might save you on overhead, it’s still imperative to schedule regular face-to-face contact. If you allow employees the privilege of working from home, it’s important that you make sure they’re not wasting their time. Whether you ask them to submit a list of tasks completed at the end of the day or maintain regular communication through an instant-messaging service, it’s critical that your mobile employees still know they’re part of a team workplace.

Although there are many reasons to embrace an informal work environment, it’s vital to know when you’ve gone too far. Making sure you enforce a clear list of rules, boundaries and performance indicators is a powerful way to get the most out of flexible work practices.

Do you work in an informal workplace? How does your company make it work?

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