Flexible work arrangements have become a popular trend in companies all over the world. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic throwing workforces into a whirlwind, companies were forced to see how their productivity and worker satisfaction would play out in real-time under somewhat coerced flexible arrangements. There was no opportunity for picking choice candidates to give the new model a test run. There weren’t airtight plans put in place by HR departments to roll out a new workflex option. There were no such luxuries, but as a wise man once said, necessity is the mother of invention.
The pandemic put workforces from every corner of the globe into a flexible work environment. Now, with restrictions around the world loosening up and the world slowly returning to normalcy, flexible work arrangements have become part of the new normal. From my perspective, flexible work is here to stay and is the future of work for both the white and blue-collar sectors of the economy.
The Employee Perspective
We have close to 30 employees in our company. Some work full-time. Some work part-time. Some work from our offices around the world in different time zones. Others are what we call Olim in Israel, or new immigrants, and their families are halfway across the world. With that in mind, it’s important to do what we can to meet everyone’s unique needs and keep them satisfied. In our case, flexibility could mean allowing employees to work unconventional hours to mesh with their rigorous class schedules or to permit extended time working remotely to visit family. The truth is, what difference does it make as long as they are happy and carrying out their duties within the company?
The research to support this model is overwhelming. For instance, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that “81 percent of employees said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.” Eighty-one percent! It makes perfect sense. If your employer shows they care about you as an individual beyond the workspace, you are more likely to hold favorable opinions of your workplace, feel a sense of genuine satisfaction, and feel like you belong.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a stark light on our humanity, and we see how employees have responded in the context of their jobs and careers. Employees now consider work/life balance and work flexibility amongst the top priorities when looking for their next role, and that spans across both the white and blue-collar ecosystems. It’s something employers and hiring managers must keep in mind when competing for talent.
The Employer Perspective
The beautiful thing about embracing work flexibility is that many of the benefits for employees double up as benefits for employers. While flexibility gives employees the feeling of greater connectivity to their company, employers gain happier, more creative, and more productive employees.
Let’s take this shining example: Predating the pandemic, a financial firm in New Zealand found incredible success in a flexible work model, proving that adding flexible work options doesn’t mean foregoing highly ambitious company goals. “In 2017,” the article says, “the New Zealand financial firm Perpetual Guardian trialed a four-day working week on the condition that employees continued to meet their performance targets. The company reported that employees were happier and that productivity had increased by 20%.” As a result, the financial firm has since offered a permanent option for employees to work the condensed four-day workweek.
While we’re at it, let’s go beyond the measurables. If given flexible work options, what’s the ceiling on increased worker morale? How many current employees would encourage qualified candidates to join the company? How much can flexibility help with employee retention? In short, the positive impacts extend well beyond the numbers.
Where to Start
Barring extravagant circumstances, a flexible work environment doesn’t happen overnight. In light of loosened COVID-19 restrictions, some workplaces around the world are embracing a hybrid model, meaning employees get the best of both worlds; They get the luxury of working from home while still feeling personally connected to the workspace and their teammates. Other companies are becoming remote-first. Some companies are returning to the models they used before the pandemic. There’s a case to make for each model, but I would urge companies that are capable to embrace a truly flexible work environment. In order to remain competitive and to attract top candidates (no matter your industry), employers are better off adding genuinely flexible options for their employees.
As companies work towards adding long-lasting flexible work options, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Create a system where workers stay connected at all levels.
If your workforce is dispersed with some employees on-site, some remote, and others hybrid, there must be effective communication systems in place. A problem that companies have inadvertently created has been that remote and hybrid workers feel as if they are “second-class citizens” in the workplace.
Picture this scenario: You have two employees performing the same duties with equal levels of competency and creativity. One works remotely with the exception of a monthly appearance at the office for meetings. The other comes to the office every day. How will most managers interpret the performance of these two employees? There tends to be a false presumption that workers on site are more productive. As a byproduct, they are more likely to be applauded for their efforts and to receive pay raises and promotions. Avoiding this takes a conscious effort and requires effective communication between all employees and team leaders.
Plan it out.
Although we didn’t have the luxury of planning our flexible work models during the pandemic, now is the perfect time to strategize. What supplies do your remote and hybrid workers need to succeed offsite? Do they need any new software on their devices before they wander off into this new territory? The more you plan things out in advance, the smoother the transition will be and the quicker you can get to enjoy all the perks of the flexible work model.
Embracing the Change
Relatively speaking, we’re still in phase one of workforce flexibility. It’s all new and exciting, and its future isn’t quite yet clear to us. Despite all of that, one thing is certain: work flexibility is the way of the future. It was an inevitable outcome accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees have shown that they now prioritize flexible work arrangements when looking for their next opportunity. It would behoove companies to heed their calls, lest they lose out on quality talent in an increasingly competitive employment world. We’ve already seen major companies such as Facebook that have expanded their work-at-home option to all employees who can do their jobs offsite. Now is the time for all of us to embrace the wave of change and give a warm welcome to the new and flexible workforce!