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Masooma Memon

Flexibility in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges & Examples

What attracts the best talent these days? Well, increasingly, it's not top salaries or flashy signing bonuses - it's the prospect of more flexibility in the workplace. What could this look like in your organization?

Flexibility in the workplace is central to the future of work. In fact, 90% of employees say flexible working is a key motivator of their work productivity - trumping even financial incentives.

Creating a flexible workplace that meets all your employees’ unique needs is no easy feat, though. You’ll need to figure out ways you can be flexible, deal with inevitable challenges that crop up, and take your entire organization through a transformative change.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s next to impossible to create a truly flexible workplace. Instead, it just means there are some obstacles that may arise, and you just need to be ready to deal with them.

Thankfully, the benefits of workplace autonomy — from improved job satisfaction to increased organization-wide productivity — make all the effort very well worth it.

So let’s talk about these benefits and challenges, and take you through solutions as well as examples of how other businesses are winning at workplace flexibility.

What is flexibility in the workplace?

Flexibility in the workplace refers to acknowledging and supporting individual employees’ needs.

It refers to breaking free from the traditional, structured way of working (think: fixed working hours from the office) — empowering and trusting employees to turn in quality work irrespective of where they are, or when they are online.

The aim is simple: to give employees autonomy at work so they can better balance their work and life to be more productive, motivated, and satisfied with their job. In turn, this is crucial for retaining your workforce

Benefits of flexibility in the workplace

On the surface, it may seem like workplace flexibility mostly just benefits employees. In the long haul though, all the improvements to employee well-being translates into greater job satisfaction and morale, benefiting employers by retaining talent better.

But that’s not all. Satisfied employees who enjoy flexible work arrangements also tend to be more productive, motivated, and resilient. Therefore, stacking up yet more organizational benefits.

Let’s review these one by one:

Improve performance and productivity

Flexible work arrangements help employees balance their personal and professional lives without having to deprioritize anything.

This improves performance since employees’ jobs no longer become a hindrance or burden preventing them from fulfilling other responsibilities.

It’s no wonder that a Stanford University study found that working from home or anywhere else increased productivity by 13%. It also cut attrition rates by a whopping 50%.

Engage and motivate employees better

Flexible scheduling and work arrangements take a high level of trust with your employees.

And it doesn’t go unnoticed as employees realize you trust them to work outside the traditional work structure.

The result? Improved job satisfaction as employees become more engaged at work, valuing their workplace for the flexibility it offers. 

Highly engaged workplaces, in turn, bring in more benefits. These include 41% lower absenteeism, 40% few quality defects, and 21% higher profitability, according to Gallup.

Hire and retain top talent

We’ve already touched on how flexibility in the workplace improves employee engagement and job satisfaction, which creates loyalty and better retention rates.

The good news though: not only can being flexible retain employees but it also attracts top talent. In fact, jobs allowing employees to work full-time or part-time from home see 7x more applications than in-person roles.

Reduce operating costs

Flexible working also reduces expenses that go into running an office(s) including costs of food, utilities, rent, and cleaning services.

As it helps you improve employee retention, workplace flexibility also reduces the cost of hiring, onboarding, and training new employees now and then.

Take it from Dell, for instance. The tech giant formalized flexible schedules in 2014, saving them $12 million in annual savings as it no longer needs as much office space.

Improve workplace diversity

Thanks to hybrid and remote work, organizations can hire talent from across the globe. This gives you a competitive advantage, helping you grow a successful business. 

Definitions & examples of workplace flexibility

Some ways to offer flexibility to your employees include:

  • Flex work hours. This involves letting employees set their own work hours.
  • Compressed hours. This is where employees work the same number of hours but in a reduced number of days. For instance, Buffer observes a 4-day workweek plan.
  • Flex positions. This means two or more employees share a single role so they can put in part-time work hours into it. For instance, Unilever’s U-work initiative releases employees from fixed employment roles and gives them the freedom to choose which projects they want to work on. 
  • Flex time off. This gives employees unlimited vacation time. Netflix, LinkedIn, Kickstarter, and GitHub all offer flexible paid time off. Evernote even gives a $1,000 yearly vacation stipend among other these companies
  • Phased retirement. This involves agreeing on a flexible work arrangement with employees approaching retirement. You can offer arrangements like reduced working days or hours, job sharing, or keeping them onboard for employee training.

Top 5 challenges (and solutions) to implementing workplace flexibility

Flexibility in the workplace can be tricky to plan, achieve, and maintain. But there’s nothing that taking a strategic approach to making flexible arrangements can’t solve. 

So in this section, we’ll not only look at the challenges but also offer solutions for creating a flexible workplace. Let’s dive in:

1. Communication and team building challenges

Hybrid and/or remote work arrangements make communication a serious challenge as you try to collaborate with employees following different work schedules from different time zones.

Fortunately, using the right tool stack and setting communication preambles can promote asynchronous work. For example, team leads should:

  • Talk to employees to understand the hours they’ll be available for communication.
  • Set a defined time bracket in the day when all employees should be open to communication.
  • Elaborate on which situations call for meetings and explain how to determine who is needed there.
  • Introduce video messaging to the team. For instance, instead of calling a meeting to share feedback, encourage employees to create short, screen-recorded video messages.

Remember: increasing the number of meetings won’t solve your problem of lack of face-to-face interactions. Instead, it’ll only punch a hole in employees’ productivity flow — preventing them from investing time in doing deep work

Also important here: improve the types of meetings you host. For instance, eliminate daily status updates and introduce fun team-building and collaboration meetings on a weekly basis.

Here are more ideas for improving team chemistry from the SEMrush team:

2. Team bonding and culture building becomes difficult

In-person office communication including watercooler chats increases team bonding — something that’s hard to replicate in a remote or hybrid work setting.

It’s also hard to create and implement your office culture in a remote or hybrid work setting. In fact, Gartner reveals HR managers say instilling workplace culture in a remote setting is their biggest challenge.

Hosting semi-regular in-person meetings may be one route to improving team bonding. Even if your team is based in different corners of the world (like the Runn team!), you can host annual company-wide retreat events, and smaller team get-togethers in different regions throughout the year.

Runn's CS & Sales teams getting together in Vancouver 🇨🇦

Two more tips:

  • Lead by example
  • Execute what you say you stand for

LinkedIn’s culture, for instance, emphasizes prioritizing what matters the most and creating a sense of belonging among other things. And they achieve this by offering the support they promise:

3. Engaging employees and instilling a sense of meaningful work is tough

Yet another challenge is communicating with employees they’re contributing to the company’s success. 

It can be hard to align them with the company’s mission too, which can alienate employees, making them feel like they aren’t doing any meaningful work.

Hosting regular virtual town hall meetings is one of the ways to solve this concern. However, to make these impactful, it’s essential HR puts in the work to make these company-wide meetings engaging.

Communicating your culture isn’t enough though. Instead, you need to instill it to make people feel engaged and a part of it. The solution? Appreciate employees for following your values.

Here’s an example of how the team at LASSO recognizes and engages their employees to create a strong company culture:

 4. Employees may feel unheard

Team bonding, culture building, and engaging employees in a flexible work arrangement mostly boils down to virtual meetings or communicating on platforms like Slack and Discord. 

Employees can feel like these aren’t the best spaces to bring up any concerns they might have. As a result, they can end up feeling unheard.

Regular one-on-ones are an easy way to overcome this hurdle. But there’s more that you can do to create psychological safety — don’t just listen to their concerns, act on them too.

At the very least, tell your team how you’ll try to solve their concern instead of letting them feel like their concerns fall on deaf ears.

Achieving this, however, depends on good leadership, which means you need to start off by training managers on how they can support their teams better.

Other ways to create psychological safety to get employees to share their concerns include:

  • Trust the people you work with. Don’t micromanage them.
  • Set defined work expectations and goals, then leave people to achieve both — providing help and resource as needed.
  • Set expectations around accountability. Tell your team you trust them to do their job and that they need to keep you in the loop. This is what will help you create a people-first culture.

5. Work and life boundaries blur

Lastly, remote work can quickly blur the lines between work and personal life. In fact, research shows 56% of employees say they find it difficult to ‘switch off’ and 29% say remote work has had a negative impact on their well-being. 

The World Health Organization also notes an employee’s levels of social isolation, irritability, and guilt about work determine how stressed remote work makes them.

The solution:

  • Encourage employees to turn off from work after a set time.
  • Be respectful of reaching out to them or assigning work outside the work hours you’ve agreed with them.
  • Host one-on-ones with employees to regularly learn about their work and communication hours so there’s less boundary-pushing.

To add, lead by example and provide employees the support and resources for training them to create work on and off rituals. This thread has some great ideas:

Best practices for implementing flexibility in the workplace

With you having the solutions to key challenges that you’ll encounter as you introduce or increase the flexibility you offer at your workplace, let’s take you through three more must-follow, actionable tips:

Don’t create a one-size fits all solution

What’s flexible for one employee may not be feasible for another employee. 

For example, some may prefer working from the office for half the day, then returning to their home to continue working from there. Others may prefer traveling and working from different destinations. While still others may prefer working from home every day to take care of their kids.

This is why, as you create your workplace flexibility scheme, it’s important to remember that flexibility is going to mean different things to different employees based on their lifestyles and responsibilities.

Take it from Sodexo. They introduced an initiative called FLOW (Flexibility Optimizes Work) where employees individually worked with their managers to come up with flexible work options that meet their specific needs.

As a result, the global company has been able to accommodate regional preferences as their FLOW approach means managers can easily meet employees’ local requirements.

Co-create the workplace flexibility program with your employees

Make sure you take in employee feedback throughout — from when you first start planning a flexible work program to getting their feedback on how the solution is working for them once it’s implemented.

Thankfully, you can easily gather employee opinions and feedback with one-on-ones, surveys, and polls.

Keep in mind: lots of employees may not be open to sharing their thoughts publicly. So make sure the surveys and polls you host are anonymous. You can also use a tool like Howspace to learn about your entire organization’s sentiment toward the changes you’re making.

Provide employees the resources they need at each step of the way

Embracing and adapting to change can be hard. A change like this one also introduces challenges such as difficulty in collaborating and employees feeling unheard as we talked about above. 

Proactive communication, keeping employees in the loop about all big and small changes you’re making, and checking in on them are some ways to help your workforce easily transition to the new work style.

To add, make sure you provide them with all the resources including tools they need to adapt to the change.

In short 

While challenging to implement, workplace flexibility offers you a ton of benefits. 

Just be sure to provide work arrangements that meet each employee’s unique needs. An excellent way to do that is to source solutions from employees themselves. 

Here’s to creating flexibility in your workplace 🥂 


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