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Get flexible. Adapting to changes will take you to the top

August 5, 2022 - 15 min read

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What is flexibility?

Flexibility vs. adaptability

How to be more flexible

8 tips for increasing flexibility at work

4 benefits of flexibility at work

How to know if you have a flexible workplace

7 tips to make your job more flexible

Your next move: How to ask for flexibility at work

You’ve just been informed that one of your team members is taking an unexpected sick day, but their work still needs to be completed. And you notice that the other coworker covering the work seems stressed and worried about meeting their deadline. 

There are two ways this scenario could go: One, you could stand by and let them struggle on their own, or two, you could learn how to be more flexible at work and help them out. Hint: The second option is the way to go.

Extenuating circumstances, unexpected events, and extra hours all happen sometimes. Rather than make things more difficult in your work environment by having strict rules and processes, create a flexible workplace. Having less rigid regulations and workday hours will help you adapt when things out of your control happen. 

But offering flexible options doesn’t always present itself easily. It takes a certain mindset and planning ahead to be effective. So, let’s learn how it’s done.

What is flexibility?

Flexibility is all about how we can adjust to change in practical, effective, and planned ways. 

Flexible people have the agility and resilience to adjust to change without becoming more stressed or throwing all of their goals away. Instead, they adjust their plans to cater to their new situation. It means they’re willing and able to adapt to any scenario thrown their way.

Here are a few examples of when it’s handy to be flexible:

  • Your work environment allows people to have a remote work and in-person work style 
  • A team member of yours lives in a different time zone, so you’re flexible with your scheduled meetings
  • You work a second job, so both of your managers are flexible with the hours you can work for each job
  • You were going to meet with a potential client today, but their appointment ran late, so you offer to meet with them another time when it’s convenient for them

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Flexibility vs. adaptability

When we read about flexibility, we often come across the term adaptability. Although these words are sometimes used for the same purpose, they do have subtle differences. 

Flexibility refers to our ability to bend to other circumstances, requirements, or influences. It means that we can bend without breaking and easily fit into a new scenario. At work, being flexible means being able to accommodate others without sacrificing your needs, time, or regular habits. Flexible individuals are excellent at compromising or finding other ways to make a situation work.

Adaptability, on the other hand, means you’re able to fit into an entirely new environment or set of regulations. It might be abandoning your previous way of doing things to start over, like being in a new role or position.

This might look like taking on a temporary leadership role for another team and finding ways to execute it effectively. It suggests a willingness and ability to adapt to new circumstances.  

Both concepts are soft skills that test our grit and mental fitness. They demand us purposeful actions to help us grow. We might have to be innovative in adapting or being flexible with changing circumstances.

How to be more flexible

Learning how to be flexible is easier said than done. It’s not something that we can wing or do without proper planning. We have to be conscious of our own schedules as plans and who we’re trying to be flexible for.

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To get you started, here are six tips to help you become more flexible:

  1. Work to develop a flexible mindset that sees the value in not being so rigid
  2. Switch up your typical routine by changing your work style or work schedule
  3. Make an effort to include flexitime during professional and personal hours
  4. Be proactive when you see problems arising
  5. Accept that life is full of change, and nothing can stay the same forever
  6. Continue to seek out new learning opportunities

Through a relationship with a BetterUp coach, you can have the guidance you need to develop skills that will help you become more flexible at work.

8 tips for increasing flexibility at work

It’s one thing for you to be flexible on your own, but learning how to show you are flexible at work with your team members can take time. But when we set our intentions and goals to clearly focus on creating a more flexible work environment, we can achieve it. 

Here are eight tips for how you can establish and demonstrate a company culture and work style that values flexibility:

  1. Try to delegate authority between coworkers when appropriate
  2. Encourage job sharing to have team members learn new roles and responsibilities
  3. Establish clear and effective lines of communication
  4. Welcome feedback, and motivate others to give it
  5. Encourage team members to network and hear other people’s experience
  6. Practice a democratic leadership style, rather than a rigid one
  7. Brainstorm problem-solving techniques even before problems happen
  8. Schedule team meetings where people learn how to strengthen collaborative skills

4 benefits of flexibility at work

Being flexible at work teaches you more than just problem-solving skills. It impacts employee satisfaction, the ability for people to be creative and learn new things, and how well your business deals with change. 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to be more flexible, increasing telecommuting across the globe. Many part-time and full-time employees find themselves working from home each week. And this flexibility benefits employers.

In fact, a study in the UK found that 97% of managers found the quantity of work improved or stayed the same, with 93% saying the same about the quality of work. Another study found that 65% of Americans with the flexibility to work from home had higher job satisfaction

But there’s much more than just that, so let’s review five benefits that flexible work brings us:

1. Fosters a sense of trust

Trust plays a big part in how well your team works with one another. You’re enabling a company culture that doesn’t value or believe what others say without trust.

A global survey of 4,000 employees found that 63% believe that trust needs to be earned at work. Meaning it’s not a given. But by being flexible, team members can see that as a way of building trust since it’s not a given.

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2. Allows for more autonomy

Autonomy at work means that employees feel like their work pace is attainable, and micromanaging is nowhere in sight. Flexible employees work at their own pace and are creative because they know that if they run into problems, the rest of their team is there to support them.

An example could be that remote workers have the flexibility and freedom to work more in the evening rather than in the morning because that’s when their productivity is the highest.

If you have children or caregiver duties, you probably value the ability to run an errand in the middle of the day without fear of repercussions.

3. Unexpected change isn’t as scary

We know that change is inevitable in all areas of our lives. Rather than cower in fear, why not face it head-on? Fearing change will hinder your ability to address it. A flexible mindset and readiness make unexpected events that much more manageable.

Next time any change is thrown at us, we’ll be ready to embrace it. Our ability to be flexible will make things like joining a new team or covering someone’s work for a day achievable and not a stressor.

4. More growth and learning opportunities

As markets and industries evolve, we have to as well. Learning how to be flexible at work isn’t exclusively for your office. It also includes how your business handles new innovations and trends. That way, you can grow and learn new skills along the way.

Your business needs to grow, and being flexible helps you do that because you’re ready and prepared, rather than caught off guard and have no idea how to adjust.

How to know if you have a flexible workplace

You might be asking yourself, “How can I be more flexible at work?” when really, you are, and so is your workplace. Identifying if you truly have a flexible work environment is a great first step. 

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To help you out with that, here are some ways you can tell if your workplace is flexible:

  • Everyone has a flexible schedule and work hours
  • Team members have a healthy work-life balance
  • Personal needs are valued and respected
  • Your coworkers have flexible responsibilities, not singular ones

7 tips to make your job more flexible

Any workplace can benefit from including more flexible work arrangements in their office. Whether remote or in-person, flexibility can help every business and employee work better.

Sometimes people don’t see the value or understand how flexibility can be included, but that’s where you and your knowledge come in.

Here are seven ways to create flexibility in your work environment: 

  1. Identify and research what areas of your work think could be more flexible
  2. Create a well-thought-out, detailed plan to pitch to your manager
  3. Find jobs that are known for being flexible, like being a freelancer
  4. Remain optimistic and be assertive of your ideas of flexibility
  5. Touch base with each team member and hear their concerns and suggestions
  6. Create a framework for working that’s collaborative and full of communication
  7. Take the time to learn everyone’s unique skill sets

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Your next move: How to ask for flexibility at work

Now that you know how to be more flexible at work, why not ask for it? You can make it happen if you put in the effort for it. You’re aware that increasing workplace flexibility is team effort. But the benefits are felt by everyone. A greater sense of trust, more autonomy in the workplace, growth, and a lessened fear of change are excellent qualities in your work environment.

The bottom line: flexibility can be achieved in any workplace and should be valued.

To set you up for your next move, here are four ways you can ask for flexibility in your workplace:

  1. Make it clear that you want flexibility in your workplace
  2. Be the first person to initiate conversations around flexibility
  3. Encourage others to explore and learn what flexibility means for them
  4. Make concrete suggestions and answers to any issues

Find support from someone outside of your workplace as you search for more flexibility. BetterUp can provide the guidance you need to strengthen your communication and leadership skills so that both you and your team can benefit from a flexible workplace.

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Published August 5, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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