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There are two kinds of employees.
The first is up at seven a.m., and spends around 30 minutes mustering the determination to work out. After breaking a little sweat and getting clean, this worker will dash off to make the nine a.m. start time at work.
Our first employee skips breakfast, and might enjoy a quick lunch at his desk — while working to beat a looming deadline. At the close of work at five, this person will head home, only to repeat the same events the next day.
Our second employee also has a seven a.m. wake-up time. She decides to skip an early morning workout to catch up on some journaling. At nine, she has her first meeting of the day in the home office, her favorite cat as a pleasant distraction.
After breakfast, she gets some more work done, before choosing a brisk walk for exercise. Later, this worker might decide to have lunch at a favorite cafe, where she’ll spend the rest of the workday before going to meet with friends.
Examined closely, both employees represent the past and future of the global workforce. The first mirrors the 9-5 set up, where rigid work schedules and locations ruled the day. But now, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the second, more flexible work arrangement reflects better conditions for employee well-being.
Employee flexibility, however, goes beyond remote work and flexible work schedules. This guide examines the different ways workplace culture can complement the personal needs of workers.
What is workplace flexibility?
Workplace flexibility prioritizes the best circumstances for workers to thrive in. Rather than enforce a rigid timeline or environment, this structure supports the need for work-life balance. It embraces the idea that employees can be at their most productive no matter if they're in the office or sprawled on the sofa while at home on a weekday.
Flexibility also emphasizes the humanity of workers. A team member might experience loss, personal difficulties, or an unplanned illness. Flexible work arrangements allow these workers to take time away from work, without compromising their position or pay.
Prioritizing a flexible schedule and work style lets organizations ensure employee engagement with few constraints. These organizations also rank high among job seekers, who appreciate a setting that focuses on their needs and happiness.
But as much as a flexible structure benefits the worker, employers also stand to gain from adopting this model to achieve their goals.
Why is employee flexibility important?
If you asked the first employee in this guide about the downsides of a strict structure, his primary complaint would likely be the lack of control over his own schedule.
Many employees are expected to be available full-time, five days of the workweek. That leaves little accommodation for changes that affect worker availability or performance.
As humans (and not cyborgs), fallback plans need to be in place. Because life happens. A worker that experiences sudden illness, a bad mental health day, or who would simply like to spend more time with friends and family needs support.
Flexible work arrangements provide these allowances, as seen in the following benefits of this system:
Workers can become more productive
For most workers, the option to avoid commuting to the office every day is enough to make the prospects of working more enjoyable. Employees can channel the time and energy spent in the car, bus, or train ride to work to begin work at an earlier time.
It's a valuable perk, and one that employees will be reluctant to give up. Many people, amidst the stress of the pandemic, have enjoyed the opportunity to work from home with loved ones, pets, or their own company. It is its own incentive to show how well they can work outside of the office, without routine supervision.
It can improve worker morale
The last thing any worker wants to feel is distress at the thought of getting up for work every morning. When employees belong to an organization that recognizes their basic needs, there is little chance of this happening.
The majority of team members in the workplace are unwilling to compromise their lives for a career. Workers are therefore inclined to give their all to organizations that value and support this ideal.
A flexible schedule boosts wellbeing
There are many benefits to employer flexibility. When workplaces support alternate arrangements, as well as time off for workers to rest, employees are more likely to stay. They do better work when encouraged to work in a setting suited for their welfare.
This may be an effective measure against worker burnout, and can ensure that workers are well rested to carry out their best work. Flexibility can be a big driver in promoting the worker’s physical and mental wellbeing.
In times of crisis, worker flexibility can actually be critical in maintaining well-being. Many workplaces transitioned to a flexible environment during the pandemic to minimize exposure. This was a necessary and life-saving measure – but it also presented new possibilities for how and where work gets done.
Flexibility encourages worker retention
There’s very little to dislike about a workplace that offers remote work, flexible schedules, and fair pay. These perks help to ensure that employees remain and grow with the organization.
Workplaces that offer flexible arrangements often have a low rate of absenteeism and turnover. These organizations are also likely to be highly rated by past and current employees.
It makes organizations appealing to job seekers
When given a choice between the two employees at the start of this guide, job seekers are most likely to select the most flexible option.
It's an easy choice. Modern employees are more likely to choose employers that are open to supporting a work-life balance. Many applicants may even avoid workplaces without these options. This can cause organizations to miss out on top talent.
How to increase employee flexibility
As an employer, one of the most valuable decisions to make for your reputation – and bottom line – is to stand for a commitment to employee wellbeing.
Flexible workplaces often find positive reviews of their business on platforms like Linkedin and Glassdoor.
A lot of deliberate planning, though, has to happen before an employer may be recognized for its flexible structure. A workplace provides flexible work options where the following measures are present:
In the past, the arrival and departure times for workers were set at a rigid timeframe. This time was followed by team members every day, with penalties often imposed for late arrivals or early exits.
While it provided a predictable work structure, this fixed schedule rarely accommodated workers' needs, and often disregarded their preferences.
With flex time, employees and workers are able to determine and agree to a timetable that takes account of the worker’s interests.
This system allows workers to select the hours and days which they are comfortable working.
As the pandemic has shown, not all work needs to be carried out directly from the office. Employers can provide the option to telecommute. This lets team members work from home, a co-working space, cafe, or venue of their choice.
Telecommuting permits workers to have the option of a versatile workstation. However, this requires some creativity to prevent workers from becoming alienated from colleagues and managers. Employers might choose special occasions or days of the week/month where team members should meet in person.
Remote work is similar to telecommuting. The company allows workers to carry out their duties from anywhere outside the office space.
By accepting remote work, employers are able to widen their reach to top talent from around the world. Remote workers may be full-time, part-time, or temporary employees.
Job sharing is a relatively uncommon work structure. It allows two part-time employees to carry out a role usually filled by a full-time staff member.
Job sharing can be a convenient measure for any employee who can't commit fully to the requirements of full-time service.
Rather than working five days every week, a compressed or condensed work week allows employees to work the same number of hours over fewer days.
For example, workers may choose a four-day workweek. Within this time, they work the 40 hours typically spread across five days. This allows for some flexibility and freedom for the worker. It's more common in professions with traditionally longer shifts, like healthcare.
This arrangement is usually for workers on an hourly schedule. It allows for adjustments with the agreement of employee and supervisor.
Schedule adjustments allow a short-term change to be made to an employee’s work hours. In the event that a worker misses some hours one day, this lets them make it up by spreading them across other days, preventing overtime.
Unlimited paid time off
In the past, employees were given a set number of vacation and sick days. With unlimited PTO, this limit is removed, with workers having the option to take as much time as needed. They work with their managers to make sure their absence won't disrupt business operations.
This policy permits workers more freedom in enjoying their time as they see fit, whether for health, childcare, or vacation.
How employees promote flexible work
Employees also have a major part to play in encouraging a flexible workplace.
A flexible mindset is a skill many employees will be wise to have. However, it may not always be the most evident system to follow. The following are different ways employees can encourage a better work environment:
Offering support to colleagues
For a truly flexible work environment, a lot of co-operation is required. Employees, like their managers, are also stakeholders in ensuring that work runs smoothly.
A good example is where one worker requires the collaboration of other team members in cases of unplanned leave. Where workers are unwilling to take on the load of other staff members, this can throw a wrench in the flexible environment being built.
Employees may also be mindful of work hours and days when planning meetings with co-workers. This is to avoid scheduling that might conflict with a colleague’s time off, or time away from the office.
Keeping the company’s mission in mind
When carrying out their obligations, workers should always have the company’s vision and mission at the back of their minds.
This is especially true for those working in a flexible workforce. For the undisciplined, flexibility can create a perfect environment to begin slacking on their duties.
Team members should remember that while the provisions made to create an ideal work environment greatly benefit the worker, they are ultimately in furtherance of the company’s goals. Meeting deadlines, communicating, and participating in virtual or physical meetings are all ways to encourage the success of a flexible workplace.
Taking action following feedback
An important way to ensure a flexible workplace is for workers to remain receptive to feedback. When suggestions are made on better ways to contribute to the team while remote, on the verge of a leave, or other likely circumstances—workers should take the comments in good faith. This feedback should then be implemented to ensure a smooth-running operation.
A flexible working environment is the future of the workforce, and that future is now. Employers and workers alike have direct roles to play in ensuring that this system works effectively to ensure a good work-life balance for all.
By adopting measures like remote working, unlimited PTO, openness to feedback, and more, flexibility is sure to become the watchword for the office environment.