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Table of Contents

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How can we nurture employee flexibility and implement workplace flexibility without bending over backward (pun intended)? It’s no secret that the importance of structured work hours and a physical office is waning as the emphasis has shifted to getting the work done… even if it’s done at home on the couch outside the hours of 9 to 5.

What Is Employer/Employee Flexibility?

This could be most simply defined as the collective effort of an employer and employee to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in order to accomplish the goals of the business in a timely and efficient manner. If we dig deeper, what this looks like can be broken down into two major components: location and time.

As the concept of “the workplace” has become more fluid, more and more employers and workers are finding the physical office less necessary than previously believed. Remote and hybrid work is not new by any means. It became less of a luxury and more of a necessity for many during the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused many companies to dip their toes into socially distant options.

As the cautionary mandates subsided, employers found it to be more cost-effective to remain on hybrid and remote status, and also that it increased job and life satisfaction among their employees. Some positions have no structured hours. Employers have taken note that everyone’s peak productivity happens at different times and make adjustments in order to support their employees the best they can.

Why Is Flexibility Important?

In the ever-changing personal and social landscape, circumstances inevitably get in the way of productivity. In your workplace, does work get pushed off to someone else, impacting their performance? Or maybe it gets sifted around until it falls through the cracks? In a workplace that places high value on flexibility, your clients don’t have to pay the price when circumstances are unavoidable. It’s clear to see why workplace flexibility has become an HR hot term—and that’s not even looking at the increase in productivity, overall higher work-life satisfaction, and measurable reduction in turnover.

  • Life happens. If life-altering and work-interrupting incidents weren’t guaranteed to happen, there wouldn’t be FMLA. Employees are going to get sick, have family crises, lack childcare, be in need of mental help, have to put their pet down, or any other number of tragic circumstance. The question is not if, but when. This also raises the question, what is a crisis, and what is just life? By planning for the inevitable through the lens of time and location flexibility, we empower our employees to do their best work while managing their best life. For those in a flexible work environment, what could be a detrimentally stressful instance of having a sick child with no place to go could be just another day working from home.
  • Work/Life balance. Workplace flexibility gives workers more control over their time, which gives them more control over completing work tasks while governing their personal life. With that freedom comes a sense of autonomy that encourages self-regulation skills, which directly impacts employee productivity. Forbes puts it this way: “Employees have been statistically proven to be more efficient when provided the opportunity to independently work when, how, and as much as they like.”
  • Socioeconomic circumstances. If there’s any wisdom to glean from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s how unexpected things happen quickly. It’s no secret that major events can shut just about everything down at the drop of a hat. With the freedom to work from anywhere and at any time, you increase the resilience of your business amidst unstable socioeconomic circumstances.
  • Happy employee = loyal employee. 54% of office workers say they’d leave their job for one that offers flexible work time. This surprising Gallop study shines the light on how offering flexibility is strategically beneficial for retaining top talent. In addition, according to this survey, 80% of respondents said they’d be more loyal to their employer if they provided flexible working arrangements. This also drives employee engagement, increasing health and lowering absenteeism.
  • Increased productivity. In the Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey, 43% of respondents said that flexible working hours helped them achieve more productivity, and 30% of those surveyed said that less or no time commuting allowed them to be more productive.
  • Lower overhead. It’s fairly apparent that deviating from a physical location lowers rent and utility costs. But did you know it can also lower the cost of productivity? For companies stressing time freedom, moving from hourly pay to project-based pay has drastically increased the output they see from their employees and reduced the time it took for them to complete tasks. This can effectively lower cost in ratio to productivity. “We shouldn’t be focused on hours worked as a measure of productivity, but rather on goals achieved. If employees can accomplish their goals in fewer hours than the standard 40-hour workweek, they should be praised and rewarded,” says CEO of DigitalOcean Yancey Spruill.

To put it simply, flexibility promotes loyalty, increases productivity, makes for happier employees, reduces overhead, and empowers businesses to thrive. “In reality, offices are just one input into achieving company goals, and by removing the friction that comes with a physical workplace, companies may find they achieve their goals even more easily,” says Yancey Spruill in this Forbes article. “By shifting how we think about the workplace and company culture and focusing more on mission, values, and the facilitation of achieving business goals, we can focus on great customer service, build better products, produce stronger results and drive improved and sustainable employee satisfaction.”

How to Increase Employee and Employer Flexibility

Practice Selective Hiring

If you offer time and location flexibility, anticipate more applicants. Research shows that jobs offering remote and hybrid options receive seven times more applications in comparison to in-person roles.

Flexibility in the workplace starts with flexible employees. With more applicants comes the opportunity to become more selective. Scrutinize your hiring process and make it more thorough wherever possible. Rather than weighing all of the value of an applicant by experience and skills, look for applicants who are also excited and willing to learn and whose references point to qualities such as resilience under trial. Experience can be gained. Skills can be taught. Resilience, an aptitude for learning, and strength of character are qualities you’ll only find in the best talent. Revamp your interview questions to highlight those who are able to roll with the punches.

Open Channels of Communication

One can only roll with the punches they see coming. Unfortunately, flexibility allows for increased opportunities for misunderstandings. As some employees are in the office, some are out of the office, and not everyone is working the same hours, effective communication becomes more important than ever. Ensure multiple methods of communication are available and being used effectively. By utilizing tools such as Zoom, online message boards, mobile apps, and team group chats, you can ensure the unity of the team and increased the engagement of your employees.

Redefine the Concepts of “Office” and “Business Hours”

Rather than “the office” being a location with cubicles, redefine it as anywhere work happens. Rather than “business hours,” shift to terms such as “times of productivity.” Management needs to lead the charge by showing they value the output of every employee, no matter if they’re project-based, hourly, remote, or in the office. Particularly in environments where some are and some are not working hybrid or remote, this can become a point of friction (another reason why encouraging engagement through communication is so critical.) To increase the unity of workers, the company-wide value of work must shift towards quality of outcome more than location.

Support Employees

We’ve discussed a lot of how the workplace can become more flexible, but a workplace cannot successfully be flexible without flexible employees. Having been relentless with a scrutinous hiring process now is the time to build on the grit of your employees. Offer training on effective in-person and virtual communication. Build self-improvement, autonomy, and inclusivity into your employee culture by offering events with speakers on these topics, Kindle or Audible credits as mini-bonuses, and social media and in-person recognition of employees who are meeting the mission of the company. Implement a buddy program to unite different departments, require shadowing days for new and seasoned employees, and offer incentives for those willing to cross-train into other positions. A unified workplace is not only great for productivity but is excellent for relationship building, which directly impacts employee happiness and loyalty.

Examples of Flexibility

Employers can consider several different types of flexibility.

Location

It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure the employee has all the resources to be able to work remotely effectively. It is the responsibility of the employee to make those needs known and have self-regulation skills strong enough to work anywhere: from the office where interruptions are inevitable, from home where there’s bound to be noisy road work and a cat who won’t get off your computer, or on the road during work-related travel.

Schedule

Scheduling flexibility involves an employee accomplishing tasks during regular hours of operation or outside of said hours, depending on what circumstances demand. This is the combined responsibility of the employer to trust and empower employees to work when they feel they are most productive, and of the employee to properly prioritize and evaluate themselves for when they personally are at their productive best. It is also the employees’ responsibility to properly regulate their time in accordance with the task at hand.

Positional

Positional flexibility is the ability and attitude of a worker to be knowledgeable in processes of positions beyond their own and the initiative to take on tasks outside of their regular role (elimination of the “mine” and “their” mentality.) A workplace that has programs in place to enable multiple positions to accomplish work outside of their hired roles has positional flexibility. It also includes encouragement and incentives to motivate their staff to participate in cross-training programs, such as mini bonuses and recognition.

Situational

The resilience of a workplace and its employees to maintain their productivity level under social, political, and economic events that can cause a physical location to be locked down is situational flexibility. This can also include the employer’s and employee’s responses to the additional workload left by a vacationing or ill colleague.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employee Flexibility

Build your employee culture around the mission of the company, and value the final result of a task more than the time and location in which it was accomplished. Create programs surrounding feedback, building resilience, and communication training, as well as employee incentives. In addition, build in opportunities to cross-train and connect employees and their departments to one another through shadowing.
No, but they are dependent on one another. A flexible employee is a worker who understands the mission of the company with passion, has priorities appropriately in place, invests time and effort into accomplishing their tasks to the best of their abilities, and does so consistently (even when life happens.) A flexible workplace is a place of business that prioritizes the wellbeing of their employees and the quality of work above how and when the work gets done. It is a company that “emphasizes the willingness and ability to adapt to change.” (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/workplace-flexibility-definition-with-examples-2059699#:~:text=Flexible%20employees%2C%20for%20their%20part,do%20one%20or%20two%20tasks.) You cannot have one successfully in place without the other. A flexible employee in a rigid workplace becomes an overworked and burnt-out workaholic, whereas a flexible workplace can become a company losing more money than it gains if its employees are too lax. If employees don’t have the mission in mind, priorities in place, grit to see things through, and regulation skills to press towards the company’s mission, they are not flexible and will drive a business into the ground.

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.

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