To flex or not to flex? Or perhaps better framed as: how flexible is too flexible? It’s a question that’s still puzzling a lot of business leaders–especially as the return to office movement ramps up in 2023. Employees want flexible work. Organizations are figuring out how much flexibility to give.
The reality is that flexible work is now a common workplace perk. It’s a working style that became the norm during the pandemic. And now, it’s here to stay.
In this post, we’ll break down why flexible work is the most favored and adopted way of working for the majority of people and businesses today. We’ll explore:
- What is flexible work?
- 6 types of flexible working models
- The benefits of flexible work
- The challenges of flexible work
- Flexible working best practices
- Some myths around flexible work
- 3 tools that make flexible work easy
What is flexible work?
Flexible work is an alternative working style that gives employees the freedom to choose when, where, and how they work. In essence, flexible work is anything that differs from the traditional 9-5, in-office workday. By removing strict barriers of time and place, employees can work when they feel most productive—whether that’s starting earlier or finishing later. They can also work where they feel most productive, such as working from home, the office, or their local cafe.
Are flexible work and hybrid work the same thing?
Flexible work and hybrid work are not the same, despite being closely linked. While flexible work offers elements of flexibility in when, where, and how folks work best, the level of flexibility can vary. Hybrid work, on the other hand, is a type of flexible work. Hybrid work gives employees flexibility to split their time specifically on the where: working either in the office or remotely from home.
6 types of flexible work
Flexible work models come in different forms. Pre-pandemic, you might have known it as flextime, part-time, or job-sharing. And while those approaches still exist, there are new types of flexible working that now dominate the working world.
What defines a flexible working policy is the boundaries that come with it. Different organizations and industries can apply more (or less) restrictions when it comes to schedules, location, holidays, or workloads. For example, some organizations might allow more flexibility than others when it comes to people choosing when they like to work. People can create their own working day and have control over when they start and finish. Others might offer more flexibility on where their people want to work–whether it’s a home, an office, or abroad. For some businesses, it makes sense to offer flexibility when it comes to paid time off or sharing workloads between people.
Here are six different types of flexible work that you could implement into your organization in 2023.
- Hybrid work: The most adopted form of flexible working in 2022, hybrid work offers people more control over when and where they work. There are different types of hybrid work models that offer varying levels of flexibility. They include:
- Hybrid at-will: Employees can choose which day(s) to come into the office
- Hybrid split-week: The company assigns specific days for on-site and remote work by team or function
- Hybrid manager-scheduling: Managers choose which day(s) their team comes into the office
- Hybrid mix: A combo of all three options
- Remote work: A flexible working policy that enables people to work from home full-time, rather than visiting an office part- or 100% of the time. This offers people the flexibility around where they want to work, rather than when.
- Flexitime: People don’t adhere to a strict work schedule. They choose their own start and end time and create a flexible work schedule that works for them.
- Job-sharing: This work policy allows more flexibility around workload. Two people (or more) share a full-time job, including responsibilities and tasks. This allows them to work less hours while producing the results of a full-time role.
- Part-time: One person works in one role, usually with responsibilities that don’t make up a full-time position. They work less hours each day, week, or month than a full-time employee. This offers people flexibility across many different areas, including schedule, location, and workload.
- 4-day work week: A condensed schedule that is becoming more popular as organizations explore how to increase people’s work-life balance while still maintaining the same level of productivity and output. This flexible work policy offers people an option to work less while still maintaining a full-time role. 4-day work weeks are usually made up of one of the below schedules:
- Compressed hours: People must work the same amount of hours in a full week, split across 4 days.
- Reduced hours: People work a reduced amount of time to reflect 4 days rather than 5.
Pro tip: Remember, flexibility doesn’t always have to mean changing up work schedules or offering people an option to work-from-anywhere. Consider adding flexibility when it comes to things like holidays, by offering unlimited or increased PTO or sabbaticals. You can also add flexibility by offering longer lunch breaks or job-shares for people looking to work part-time or who have commitments outside of the office.
The benefits of flexible work
Flexible work has many benefits, both for your employees and your business. For employees, it allows them to work around commitments and responsibilities in their personal lives. That might be picking their child up from school, studying part-time, or being a caregiver to a relative. For organizations, flexible work drives a better work-life balance and reduces stress levels for your employees, resulting in improved productivity and outcomes. Let’s take a look at some other ways flexible working can benefit your business.
Save on space and cost
Flexible working means less people in the office on a daily basis. This gives you an opportunity to better manage your space and in-office resources. For example, you could implement your choice of flexible seating arrangements such as hot-desking or office hoteling. This helps free up space for other uses, such as team collaboration or social activities, or helps you to reduce your real estate costs if you want to downsize. Flexible work also saves on other costs too, including utilities, energy, food, and supply costs–all by having less people in the office at one time.
Drive productivity and engagement
Flexible work can have a positive impact on productivity levels. In Gartner’s recent survey, 43% of respondents said that flexible working hours helped them be more productive in their role. The more you can support your employees to focus and engage with their work, the more you’ll see productivity rise–and with that, results.
Help attract and retain talent
Offering flexible work arrangements will attract top talent to your organization and keep them there. According to a survey conducted with Wakefield Research, 47% of employees would look for another job if their employer didn’t offer flexible working. Simply put, flexible working allows your people to fit work around their lives. Offering them that flexibility will help to attract top talent as well as keep them loyal, engaged, and happy.
Improve employee wellbeing
According to a 2022 report, 48% of people said flexible working was beneficial to their wellbeing. It’s no surprise–juggling work-life responsibilities without being tied to a strict schedule or location is significantly less stressful. When people have autonomy to create their own working schedule, it benefits their physical and mental wellbeing and gives them the freedom to complete work tasks alongside personal responsibilities. Happy employees equals more productive employees–a win-win for everyone!
Make your company culture thrive
Flexible working will help you improve your company culture by making the workplace somewhere people choose to be. As more people gain a better balance between their work and personal lives, visiting the workplace without sacrificing personal commitments will help people feel more connected to their organization and improve company culture.
The challenges of flexible work
Of course, with every work model comes challenges–even if there are only a few. Here are some challenges (and solutions) that businesses face when implementing flexible work.
Leads to isolation
Flexible work means that people will often have different work schedules and will come onsite on different days or at different times. Without a hybrid work policy that applies to everyone, or ways for folks to see when others are coming in, some people might feel isolated if they’re in an empty office. This might then deter them from coming onsite again.
To combat this, try changing part of your return-to-office policy to apply to everyone. This might be asking folks to come in twice a week, but one of those days must be a Tuesday. You can also leverage solutions like hot desking with interactive maps. This way, people can see when their coworkers are scheduled to come into the office and where they’re sitting.
Causes inequity in career progression
According to our most recent At Work report, nearly all (95%) of executives admit they notice contributions made by people in the office more than those who work from home. This is compared to 44% of remote employees who believe their contributions are noticed just as much as their peers onsite.
Flexible work aims to better balance peoples’ work and personal lives, but at what cost? When implementing flexible work, ensure that everyone feels involved and appreciated–despite their working schedule. If you are concerned about employees gaining an unfair advantage over those who work from home, change up your schedule to ask all employees to be onsite on the same day.
Differs across different industries
While it’s true that flexible work exists across all industries, it does vary across different roles. For example, IT and HR roles top the charts as jobs that offer the most flexible work opportunities. Sales, recruitment, and telecoms, on the other hand, all score fairly low because they require different levels of interaction and dependencies in the workplace.
Flexible work also varies across different industries. For example, the manufacturing industry is typically less flexible than the finance sector. Why? Because people need to be physically present onsite to operate machinery. Navigating flexible work–and its challenges–will be different for every organization.
Flexible work best practices
Now you understand the benefits and challenges of flexible work, let’s dive into some key best practices. Remember, flexible work should support both your people and your business–it shouldn’t detract from any results or performance. If you feel like it is, run over the below best practices to see how you can improve your flexible working model.
1. Set clear expectations
While flexible work is designed to offer more autonomy to your employees, folks still have to do their work at the end of the day. Set clear expectations for your people, including hitting goals, meeting deadlines, and performing well in their roles.
2. Don’t completely ditch structure
While flexibility can improve productivity and engagement, structure can also help people flourish in their role, too. For example, offering a structured lunch hour will help people in the same time zone take a break during the day. Equally, setting recurring meetings to be at the same time and day will help people plan their week better.
Pro tip: Ensure leaders set a healthy example for their teams. When they show the right balance between flexibility and structure, it will encourage team members and coworkers to follow their lead, too.
3. Prioritize equity at work
Unstructured working environments can lead to a lack of direction and equity in the workplace. For example, if one team member works from home while others are in the office, they may miss out on conversations and end up feeling more lost than their onsite coworkers. Ensure you provide the same amount of support, communication, and direction to all employees–whether they’re WFH, onsite, or part-time.
Pro tip: Remember that one-size may not fit all. In fact, it’s probably impossible to make one flexible working policy work for everyone. Adapt your model for different people in your organization and ensure everyone feels supported.
4. Survey your employees
Checking in with your employees will help you assess if your flexible working model is still the right fit for them. For example, if you have implemented a 4 day work week but employees are experiencing stress due to workload, you might consider a different flexible work style or increasing your headcount.
5. Have the best technology
Flexible work is only possible because of the technology that supports it. Communication apps like Slack or Teams help people to feel connected with coworkers no matter where or when they work. Digital collaboration tools such as Google Drive allow folks to collaborate in real-time and asynchronously when they aren’t physically together.
Myths about flexible work
When businesses don’t understand flexible work, or fear what it could do to their current set-up, it can act as a barrier to overall business success. In today’s world, the majority of people want flexible work in their industry. Here are a few myths about flexible work that are still swirling around.
- Myth 1: People are less productive in a flexible work model. Quite the opposite, in fact. When people have more flexibility in their schedule, they can choose how and where to complete their work. For some, this might be getting focus time at home and collaboration time in the office. For others, it could be the other way around. According to Gartner, 43% of people say flexible work helps them be more productive.
- Myth 2: Culture takes a hit in a flexible work model. It’s true that the physical workplace is a great tool to foster a positive company culture. It’s also true that being in-person helps to drive culture through face-to-face connection, conversations, and collaboration. But flexible work doesn’t mean the death of the office. In fact, when people can balance their WFH and in-office days and come onsite with more intention, they have a better workplace experience. In turn, this helps drive culture at work.
- Myth 3: People feel disconnected in a flexible work model. Flexible work means people will be in the office on different days and times, depending on what policy you have. This increases the chances of missing your work bestie if they plan to be in on a day you are not. Of course, the likes of Zoom is here to connect folks between the office and home. But you can also leverage other technology solutions like hot desking to see when your coworkers are coming onsite ahead of time. This helps people plan their week based on connection and collaboration with coworkers.
- Myth 4: Flexible work means more work for the organization. For some businesses, flexible work feels like losing control. It’s not always easy to know which schedule will suit your business best. Or whether that schedule will suit all of your employees. The reality is that flexible work isn’t about losing control, but sharing control. It gives employees the chance to better balance their personal lives with their work lives. Overtime, this pays dividends to your organization when it comes to avoiding employee burnout, and improving employee loyalty, belonging, commitment, and output.
3 workplace tools that make flexible work easy
Technology supports people to feel connected with each other in their flexible working arrangement. But what can it do for businesses looking to improve their flexible work model? Here are 3 workplace tools that will help you create a flexible workspace and support your people to work flexibly and efficiently.
1. Desk booking software
Flexible work means less people onsite at any given time. Investing in a desk booking system will help you make the most of your office space by allowing employees to reserve different types of workspaces onsite, as and when they need it. Whether that’s hot-desking, office hoteling, or a mix of both–ensure your employees are set up with the space they need to help improve your flexible working model.
2. Employee sign-in system
When you use an employee sign-in system, it allows your coworkers to check into your office location/s each time they come onsite. They can do this via their mobile device or laptop. By registering and checking in, you can keep track of who’s in your workplace and when. This not only protects your employees who are onsite, but also makes it easier to monitor your flexible work model in the long-term. For example, if you have chosen a hybrid split-week policy, tracking who is onsite on specific days is important to understand levels of adoption and address any areas of improvement.
3. Meeting room booking solution
Investing in room scheduling software will help your employees easily find and book available rooms suited for the kind of project they’re working on. For flexible working models like hybrid working, it’s especially important that employees can book the meeting rooms they need in the workplace. Not only will this boost their productivity levels, but it will also save time by removing the hassle of booking duplications, empty reserved rooms, or lack of available meeting room amenities.