Flexibility in the workplace is not an entirely new concept. Many small businesses that are family owned and/or are small in terms of total number of employees have a culture of intimacy and genuine concern for their staff. In these types of businesses it is not uncommon for the inside sales representative to handle the phones for a few hours while the receptionist attends her child’s mid-day science fair or for the receptionist to “hold down the fort” while the customer service manager runs to renew their business license.

The concept of flexibility however is fairly new and just catching on in many mid to large sized businesses. Smart business owners and managers are beginning to recognize the benefits of flexibility in their work environments. At its core, practicing flexibility means recognizing that your employees are more than just a resource. It means truly acknowledging that they are complex human beings who also have diverse needs and motivations.

Flexibility in the workplace not only aides in improving overall quality of life but has been proven to increase morale and reduce turnover thus increasing productivity and profitability. If you would like to introduce a culture of compassion and flexibility into your workplace here are three steps you can take to ensure a successful integration.

  1. Discuss amongst your senior management team what flexibility will mean in your organization and what it will look like. For example, what contingency plans will you put in place to ensure that time sensitive tasks are still completed on schedule so that a new father will be able to take his child to his first doctor’s appointment or how will you rearrange your break schedules to allow a group of employees to take a mid-day power walk to help them meet their health and fitness goals? It is important to make your team part of the discovery process. This will ensure you have their understanding and the complete buy in from your key decision makers.
  2. Once you have worked with your management team and understand the general parameters for your business, you will want to solicit the feedback and advice of your employees. Begin by explaining the concept, its purpose, and the desired outcomes. This step will not only engage and excite employees in the new process but will allow them to voice their opinions and explain what is important to them. Most likely you will end up revising your original plans to some degree to address the real life needs and/or concerns of your employees. Failure to get the feedback from your employees who will most benefit from this new way of thinking will cause this flexibility initiative to be viewed as gimmicky or a passing fad that will be short lived.
  3. Rollout your new policy of flexibility and stay strong. Initially it may seem counter intuitive to let an employee leave for a 2 hour period or allow an employee to bring their child to work for a few hours during the middle of a busy day but if these requests are reasonable and in line with the guidelines that you as a company have set, you have to wholeheartedly not only honor, but embrace these requests. Your employees will be looking to your initial reactions to determine the sincerity of your efforts. At this crucial period a wry look or a cynical comment from a person of authority can torpedo the whole initiative and cast doubt on the judgment of a company’s leaders.

Creating an employee centric and flexible work environment may take some time and detailed planning but the end result will be a more engaged, energized, and productive work force.

This article originally appeared on Smart Business.