Work Life
April 26, 2024
March 1, 2024

What Does Workplace Flexibility Really Mean?

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Adapting Workspaces: Home and Office Flexibility

Flexibility in the workplace used to be an uncommon sight. Many businesses allowed their employees some minor freedom, but true flexibility, when it comes to enhancing and maintaining work-life balance, wasn’t around much.

Today, the work environment is in a whole new universe when it comes to flexibility. Employees expect it—a staggering 98% of them want to work from home at least some of the time.

However, there are challenges for organizations when it comes to flexibility:

  • Offering remote work isn’t possible in some industries
  • Employees who work from home sometimes feel isolated or disengaged
  • Collaborate is harder when not everyone is in the office
  • Productivity may dip as people deal with distractions at home

The great migration to remote work during the pandemic was just the first step in realizing the importance of flexibility for everyone—it isn’t the final solution because any one-size-fits-all solution is going to fail for certain organizations and individuals.

The aim of this article isn’t to tell you that remote work is great and you need to implement it at all costs. No, our aim is to help you understand that the definition of flexibility is, well, flexible. Every business, no matter the industry, culture, or location, can offer flexibility of one kind or another.

So in this new universe of employee expectations and work-life balance, let’s take a closer look at flexibility.

The Benefits of Flexibility at Work

Before anything else, let's look at the benefits of flexibility:

Employees want flexibility in any form, and when their organization provides it, they’re more engaged, happy, productive, trusting, loyal, and motivated. Not bad, right?

Defining Flexibility—Different Types of Workplace Flexibility

We know that flexibility is important and can bring a lot of benefits. We also know that a blanket remote work policy isn’t the right solution for many businesses and people. That’s where this definition comes in—workplace flexibility simply means being willing to adjust employees’ tasks, responsibilities, schedules, etc., to fit their specific needs.

Let’s look at some different types of workplace flexibility and what they mean:

  1. Flexible work locations. This is the standard remote, hybrid, in-office method of flexibility.
  2. Flex time. This gives employees flexibility in when they start/end their day to better fit their schedule. Another aspect of this is the freedom to take an hour or two off for appointments, car repair, child carpooling, or similar needs
  3. Unlimited PTO. This is just what it sounds like—the flexibility to take time off whenever employees need it, guilt-free.
  4. Compressed workweek. This allows employees to fit their 40 hours into a compressed amount of time. For example, working four 10-hour shifts in a week.
  5. 4-day workweek. Cut out a day without requiring employees to make up the time—and give everyone raises so that their salary stays the same.
  6. Annualized hours. Set a total number of hours employees need to hit each year, and then allow them to hit that number when/where they see fit.
  7. Job sharing. This allows two employees to split the time and responsibilities of a single position. This is similar to part-time work.
  8. Shift swapping. This allows and empowers employees to swap shifts with other employees when both parties are in agreement.
  9. Phased retirement. This gives employees close to retirement age a slow reduction in hours and responsibilities, ensuring they find the balance between burnout and boredom.
  10. Sabbaticals. These are paid and planned breaks for employees to enjoy a longer leave of absence. 

These are all great workplace flexibility ideas, but flexibility shouldn’t end there. Flexibility should also reach into each employee’s responsibilities—make work fit the person, not the other way around.

For example, talk to your employees and help them adjust their work and responsibilities to fit what they enjoy, what they want to learn, and what gives them the greatest satisfaction.

How to Implement Flexibility That Fits Your Business

Even with many different types of flexibility, it can be a challenge to find the right solution for your business without disrupting employees or adding a bunch of work to your managers. Flexibility means different things in different industries, too—teachers and nurses can’t really work from home, for example.

So how do you implement a flexible policy that fits your needs and your people’s needs?

1. Talk to Your People

Your first step is to sit down and talk with your people. Use employee surveys, one-on-ones, QR code questionnaires, or whatever will get the most honest answers from them. Ask them questions like:

  • Are you happy with your job responsibilities?
  • Is there anything you’re in charge of that you don’t enjoy?
  • Do you like working in the office?some text
    • If not, why not?
  • Do you want more time from home?some text
    • If so, why?
  • Do you feel stressed or burnt out?
  • Do you have personal responsibilities that work prevents you from handling?
  • Do you get adequate time with your loved ones?
  • How is your work-life balance?
  • When do you feel most productive?
  • How long is your commute?

These questions can help you learn more about each individual’s needs, wants, feelings, and personal life.

2. Decide Which Flexible Policies Fit Your Company and Your Employees

Once you know where your employees stand, try to decide which flexible policies (listed above) fit their needs. While you’re at it, think about which ones fit your organization and any limitations there.

For example, do your employees want more time at home but your company can’t function without in-person work? Consider implementing shift swapping, unlimited PTO, flex time, or even a four-day workweek.

Think about how your flexible policy will impact your product/service, your client experience, and your productivity. Think about how managers’ responsibilities will evolve. Think about if you need new HRIS or other tools to manage more flexible work.

In short, brainstorm your flexibility options along with any benefits or pitfalls you can think of, along with solutions. This initial planning will make getting leadership buy-in and implementing the policy much easier.

3. Set Expectations and Rules

Flexibility doesn’t mean your office becomes the wild west. Managers still need to know when to expect employees and workflows may need to shift as people’s schedules change. For these reasons, make sure that you have clear rules and expectations that employees will follow with the flexibility policy.

Be clear and upfront about it—employees will appreciate the clarity, regardless of which type of flexibility policy you implement.

4. Implement a Trial Run

Decide on a period of time for a trial to see how the new policy works. Make sure you have control metrics at the beginning, such as employee happiness, productivity, and engagement, so that you can measure the outcomes after the trial period.

After the trial, look at the results. Are employees happier but less productive? Do productivity actually increase but managers are more stressed? Study the results and make adjustments to your policy to try and solve any pain points that may have risen.

And again, clearly communicate to employees that this is a trial run and that the policy will change in the future. This will head off any frustration from the very beginning.

5. Look Into Tech to Make Flexibility Easier

Do you have the right tools for a flexible workplace? A project management software and communication software are the foundation of keeping people connected, regardless of when/where they work.

Other software tools, such as employee recognition, engagement surveys, feedback management, knowledge base, video calls, and workflow management can make life easier for everyone when flexibility is implemented.

Make Flexible Working Work for You

Employees thrive when flexible work arrangements are offered—there’s no denying that fact. Every company in every industry in every country can offer flexibility in one form or another, and we hope that this guide has helped you find a solution that’s right for you.