Remember when you got dressed, beat traffic, and shuffled to your desk each morning? It’s probably been a while since you last did that. After all, the traditional nine-to-five working arrangement is quickly becoming a relic of the past.
Now, instead of requiring employees to be on-site during rigidly defined office hours, companies are embracing the many benefits of flexible work.
This shift was already gaining momentum before the pandemic. But COVID-19 forced many teams to go fully remote in a rush. Virtually overnight, flexible work became the new normal for many people.
Now that vaccination rates are increasing, and social distancing measures are easing, we’re now wondering: “What will the future hold? Will we eventually return to our nine-to-five ways?”
For many companies, the answer is a resounding “no.”
For many teams, the pandemic was the catalyst that led to a new employer/employee dynamic—one built on:
Now, companies are figuring out their next steps. They’re determining what flexible work culture should entail and how they can successfully implement it in the long term.
First, let’s have a refresher on what flexible work is. Remote work has become standard during the COVID-19 pandemic. But a truly flexible work culture involves more than just the ability to work remotely. To maximize the advantages for both employers and employees, the holistic definition of “flexible work” also needs to include hours/scheduling and paid time off.
At its core, a flexible work culture revolves around the idea that employees should be granted autonomy over both where they work and when they work. This often takes the form of a hybrid model. There are different hybrid models, one of which involves employees splitting time between the office and working remotely. With that setup, employees are free to manage their own schedules in a way that aligns with their personal lives and preferences (without compromising their performance).
PTO also needs to be taken into account—and this is particularly relevant in the United States, where the typical number of annual days off is well-below that of other developed countries. For example, in 2016, workers in Germany, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom enjoyed over 30 days of minimum paid leave and public holidays, compared to just 10 in the US. By contrast, a flexible work culture combats employee burnout by providing ample (sometimes unlimited) PTO.
The open-ended conditions of flexible work require a high degree of trust and accountability between employers and employees. And, at first glance, it might seem like employees are the ones reaping all the rewards. But that’s a limited view.
When a company gives its employees more autonomy, employees become more productive, satisfied, and engaged—which ultimately benefits the company as a whole. Let’s dive into the reasons why a flexible work culture is advantageous for both employees and employers.
High stress levels and employee burnout run rampant in the modern workforce. This can be attributed, at least in part, to toxic company cultures that demand long, relentless work hours. But employees are pushing back. In what has been dubbed the “Great Resignation,” a record number of people are quitting their jobs in search of greener pastures.
Conversely, flexible work cultures promote mental health and wellbeing by offering better work-life balance. Employees can tailor their schedules based on their unique circumstances and needs. For example, without a flexible work setup, an employee would likely have to figure out how to squeeze in a vet appointment for their dog without looking bad in front of their boss for arriving late or coming early. But, with a flexible work setup, fitting in a vet appointment for their dog during a work day would likely be a lot easier for that employee.
When employees are in a better headspace, they perform better.
It’s tempting to think that a flexible work arrangement causes more distractions and creates more opportunities for employees to slack off. But that’s far from the truth! Flexible work cultures can boost employee productivity.
A 2021 Gartner study found that the majority of digital workers achieved greater productivity under the remote/hybrid work models brought about by the pandemic. Out of the respondents:
43% cited flexible working hours as a key productivity driver
30% said they were more productive due to spending less/no time commuting
Other factors respondents cited for their increased productivity included a change in physical space/location, less time spent in meetings, and new technology.
When employees are allowed to work on their own terms, this naturally leads to an increase in overall job satisfaction, which is crucial for employee retention. Employees have been paying attention, too. A 2017 Glassdoor survey found that 87% of employees expect their employer to support them in achieving a healthy work-life balance, which feeds into their job satisfaction.
However, job satisfaction is only one metric on the “employee experience gauge.” Another, perhaps even more important measure, is employee engagement, which refers to an employee’s proactive participation, interest, and enthusiasm. Since flexible work cultures reduce stress, increase job satisfaction, and boost productivity, they lead to higher employee engagement—a win-win for both employees and companies!
In light of the Great Resignation, attracting and retaining top talent has become more difficult and competitive than ever before. For this reason, providing desirable work conditions is paramount to the health and success of the business.
Consider this: even before the Great Resignation, a FlexJobs survey found that nearly a third of workers had looked for a new position because their current employer didn’t give them flexible work options. The bottom line is that increasingly, employees are no longer viewing flexible work as a special privilege or perk. Rather, they consider flexible work a common, highly-valued style of working. And if companies don’t give their employees flexible work opportunities, many employees will refresh their resumes and look elsewhere.
So, how can companies effectively implement flexible work cultures?
As a human resources leader, adopting a flexible work culture at your company starts with getting executive buy-in. Meet with the leadership team to examine the advantages of flexible work and how it aligns with company values. These discussions will help you ensure that your company’s leadership team is fully invested in the initiative. If you don’t have strong backing from the C-suite, your company’s plan for a flexible work culture will be built on a shaky foundation.
Next, begin scheduling workshops with the different managers across your company. The goal of these workshops is to guide the managers on having honest, productive 1:1s with their direct reports to explore flexible work possibilities. You can even implement a solution that managers can use to enhance their 1:1s—Pingboard helps foster more constructive conversations between managers and employees.
During these 1:1s, managers should learn the unique needs of each person on their team, along with what their ideal schedule looks like. Then, they should discuss the following flexible work options with their direct reports:
Working Remotely/Hybrid Model: Does the employee wish to be fully remote? Or, would they prefer a hybrid model? If they prefer a hybrid model, are there particular days they’d prefer to work remotely?
Flexible Working Hours: Does the employee prefer to get their work done earlier or later in the day? Do they have commitments outside of work that they’re having trouble balancing? How do these commitments align with their job requirements?
Condensed Work Weeks: Would the employee prefer to compress their work hours into four days instead of five? Is this feasible? And how could this be accomplished given their present/foreseeable workload?
Based on the results of these 1:1s, you, the managers, and the C-suite team can take action. For example, if the majority of your company’s employees want a four-day work week, you can collaborate with your colleagues to put together an action plan for moving forward with a four-day work week for everyone. Part of that planning might involve deciding if everyone will have the same day off per week or if employees will be able to rotate which day off they want each week.
As you and your team work toward the goal of rolling out your company’s plan for a thriving flexible work culture, consider using the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology. In the OKR framework, organizational goals are set, and people work to reach them through a series of defined, measurable, time-bound deliverables. You can use a free OKR planning template to guide you.
Even after you’ve launched a flexible work culture at your company, you should consider continuing to use OKRs to ensure that everyone on your team is meeting company goals.
Looking forward, it’s clear that flexible work is here to stay—and will continue to become more normalized and widespread across the professional landscape. Modern companies are realizing that the employment dynamic has evolved and that there needs to be more alignment between organizational and employee interests.
By integrating your employees’ lives with your company's goals, you'll benefit by retaining a diverse, talented, and sustainable workforce over the long term. Under flexible work conditions, your employees will experience greater wellbeing, enjoy respectful team processes, and avoid burnout and other mental health issues. In turn, your company will have less turnover, deeper engagement, and more positive interactions that will ultimately propel the company toward more success.
An org chart can help you smoothly navigate building a flexible work culture. Sign up for a trial Pingboard account to create a flexible work environment that will benefit everyone at your organization.