Flexible work arrangements are all the rage these days, and with good reason.
Workers are clamoring for flexible working options, making them essential for any company looking to attain and keep top talent. This is especially critical as we remain in the throes of the Great Resignation.
Flexible working also provides a host of benefits to companies. Not the least of which are cost savings and a higher level of productivity.
In fact, flexible work arrangements are in such demand that 70 UK companies have just started a pilot project to test the efficacy of the much-touted four-day workweek (more on this below).
In this article, we explore six of today’s most popular flexible work arrangements (and how to optimize them). We also look at the benefits to building in more flexibility to your workplace strategy.
Discover the strategies leading organizations are using to make hybrid work.
More and more companies are experimenting with flexible work arrangements (sometimes referred to as FWA) for a simple reason: they’re what employees want.
Flexibility is the fastest rising priority for workers. So much so that in a recent Flexjobs survey of people who quit their jobs in 2022, 43% cite having no remote work options as a reason for leaving. And 41% cite not having flexible schedules. Note that a whopping 68% of those who quit didn’t have another job to go to. Clearly, they simply were no longer willing (or able) to work for a company that wasn’t in line with their values and personal lives.
This desire for flexibility is occurring across all generations in the workplace. Especially with Millennials (who will make up to 75% of the global workforce by 2025). Specifically, 78% of Millennials report that they would switch jobs for one that offered a better work-life balance alone.
We are not the same people who went home to work in 2020. The collective shared experience of the past two years has left a lasting imprint. And so flexibility is now a non-negotiable that companies really can’t afford to ignore.Colette Stallbaumer, General Manager of Microsoft 365 and Future of Work Marketing, as told to Financial Post
We are not the same people who went home to work in 2020. The collective shared experience of the past two years has left a lasting imprint. And so flexibility is now a non-negotiable that companies really can’t afford to ignore.
And workers are on to something, because flexibility is indeed linked with better wellbeing. In fact, one major study found that adopting a flexible schedule decreased work stress by 20%. This is while increasing the likelihood of job satisfaction by 62%.
This isn’t surprising, since giving employees more flexibility often comes down to treating them like the adults they are. Not every position or industry can have complete flexibility. But ultimately, the more flexibility on offer, the more autonomy and empowerment in the workplace.
This greater autonomy can lead to more productivity, more employee engagement, better staff retention, less absenteeism, and an improved employee and workplace experience.
In this way, offering greater flexibility can also dovetail with business needs, too. For example, research from the Harvard Business School found that when workers have flexibility over both when and where they work, they’re 4.4% more productive, which could add $1.3 billion to the US economy every year.
Flexibility is a shared responsibility. It’s not just about what I want as an employee, or what is beneficial for me, but it’s what is beneficial for the company as well. Maya Ketter, VP, Client Success, OfficeSpace
Flexibility is a shared responsibility. It’s not just about what I want as an employee, or what is beneficial for me, but it’s what is beneficial for the company as well.
There was also a 4.4% reduction in hiring costs. And additionally, a steep reduction in office costs ($38.2 million for the participants studied).
Finally, the environment can also be a big winner when flexible working includes remote working. The same study found that with workers driving less, these flexible initiatives reduced emissions by 44k tons.
Of course, not every organization can give all employees complete flexibility.
And even for those that can, there are better and worse ways to implement hybrid work and other types of flexible work arrangements.
When implemented poorly, hybrid and other flexible working models can erode company culture. Or they can create or exacerbate inequalities between employees. For example, if some employees don’t have a safe and reliable home workspace, or if managers only promote in-office employees.
Ultimately, the benefits of flexible work arrangements will only be realized when the organization is completely committed to supporting all workers and creating a unified employee experience. Whenever and wherever and however they’re working.
This requires a commitment from leadership to create a culture that includes and supports everyone on the team.
It often requires collaboration in the workplace between IT, HR, and FM teams. Human resources specifically will be creating official policies that support all types of workers. This is, of course, along with communicating and updating them as necessary.
And it requires the right tools. Such as those that improve communication, those that allow for flexible work schedules, those that improve visibility in a hybrid office, and those that simplify flexible seating.
We’ll cover some of these specific tools below. But first, let’s explore some exciting new and emerging flexible work arrangements.
While flexible work arrangements will look different from company to company, at their heart, they share one core quality. Moving beyond the traditional 9-to-5, in-office arrangement that we’ve typically associated with full-time work.
For some companies, this can be a flexible work schedule, job sharing, or a compressed work week. For others, it’s flexible work locations (maybe with telecommuting), or creating a more dynamic workspace.
And often, it’s a combination of any or all of the above. Companies are looking at new and exciting ways to bake more (and hopefully more meaningful) flexibility into the cake.
Just because working Monday to Friday is embedded in the way we think about work, that doesn’t mean it’s the only option. Or even the best one. More companies are dipping their toes into four-day workweeks, often with great results.
Four-day workweeks tend to follow two models:
The latter in particular is based on the idea—increasingly backed by research—that output is more important than hours logged. When employees have a better quality of life (and more time to recharge), they’re able to do better (and more) work in a shorter period of time.
“The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st-century business,” Ed Siegel, CEO of Charity Bank, tells NBC News. “We firmly believe that a four-day week with no change to salary or benefits will create a happier workforce and will have an equally positive impact on business productivity, customer experience and our social mission.”
The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st-century business.Ed Siegel, CEO of Charity Bank, as told to NBC News
The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st-century business.
Ed’s organization is part of a new pilot project in the UK testing out four-day weeks. More than 3,300 employees are now working reduced hours with the same full-time position benefits. Their 70 companies represented in the pilot range from fish and chip shops to large financial firms and everything in between. This is in an attempt to measure how reduced hours impact both productivity and quality of life.
While working four days a week is a promising solution for many people, it’s not the only way to reduce hours.
In fact, some workers—like those with caregiving responsibilities, for example—might benefit more from shorter work hours overall, rather than a shorter workweek specifically.
Given all the previously discussed benefits, some companies are experimenting with reduced hours, but not necessarily a set four day workweek.
For example, California was considering switching to a 32-hour workweek for companies with 500 more employees. All full-time jobs would be reset to 32 hours, requiring time-and-a-half pay for any hours over that.
Pennsylvania-based manufacturing-company DiamondBack has seen great results with a flexible 35-hour work week (paying staff for a full 40 hours).
And Buffer also famously adopted a 32-hour workweek (with full-time pay) at the start of the pandemic. This was only intended to be a short term policy. It was to help employees and their families adapt and adjust to the stress of the pandemic. But thanks to its outsized success, they’ve now kept the policy in place for two years.
Importantly here, Buffer employees are allowed to set their own hours. So while 73% of employees are sticking with four days a week, others find that having different hours of work (often a half day on Fridays) works better for them.
After two years, internal Buffer surveys reveal that 91% of their team are happier and more productive. And 84% of their team are able to get their work done in four days a week.
Hours worked doesn’t usually correlate with performance for knowledge workersEmma Brudner, Director of People Operations at Lola.com, as told to SHRM
Hours worked doesn’t usually correlate with performance for knowledge workers
This aligns with research from Cushman & Wakefield which shows that employee experience scores jump from 45% to 74% when employees are given the freedom to choose both when and where they work.
Ultimately, the onus is now on companies to find a work arrangement that works with their work culture. In other words, you don’t have to copy Buffer’s example directly. But you do need to find a solution that is right for your team.
Not every company can—or should—make the leap to reducing the number of hours their staff members work. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other flexible arrangements they can explore.
Namely, many companies now allow for hybrid work schedules. Or for employees to figure out when their eight hours a day will actually be.
Sometimes referred to as flextime, they still work 40 hours a week—but not necessarily the classic 9-to-5. This can be incredibly useful for employees with childcare duties or other time-consuming responsibilities (or simply hobbies) outside of work.
Companies may still institute core hours when they want everyone to be onsite or online. But outside those hours, employees will get to choose when their workday starts and ends (ie.: nightowls, rejoice).
The benefits of working remotely are many (and similar to those of flexible working arrangements in general). And thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all learned just how productive working from home can actually be.
It now goes without saying that telework can be just as productive and meaningful as anything at the office. This is assuming employees have the right tools and technology to support it.
Companies that aren’t able to offer flexibility in terms of when employees work may want to consider flexibility around where they work.
Moreover, companies that ‘unofficially’ switched to remote working because of lockdowns may now want to consider making things more official.
There’s a danger in being too hardline. Top talent wants some amount of flexibility.Luis von Ahn, co-founder and CEO of Duolingo, as told to NPR
There’s a danger in being too hardline. Top talent wants some amount of flexibility.
That’s because, according to Cushman & Wakefield research, 78% of workers are expecting (and wanting) their companies to expand and codify their work from home policies; they want reassurance that they’ll be able to keep enjoying remote work on a regular basis.
“It’s just not enough to verbally say ‘we’re flexible,’” says workplace strategist Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield. “We’re a “show me the receipts” dominated generation so it has to be in writing.”
The struggle is real.
Even when working your dream job in a dream company with a dream company culture, people still need time off to recharge and reconnect with their loved ones.
And again, all the latest research is pointing to the same idea. Success doesn’t come from people clocking in and clocking out like zombies. Instead, it comes from people who are engaged and present. Leadership is catching up with what employees have known for a long time: burnout is real. And, on the flip side, when you’re happy and well-rested, you’re able to do much more and much better work. And often in a shorter amount of time.
Enter flexible vacation time, with many companies now offering unlimited vacation days.
Vacation has always been an important employee benefit. Usually one that accrued over time (often creating a lot of extra paperwork for HR).
But in our new, more flexible reality, companies are experimenting with new ways to approach time off.
This can look like flexible time off (or flexible PTO), which doesn’t accrue. And which employees generally can take off whenever they choose. These days will often cover both vacation and sick days.
Or, this can look like unlimited time off (also called unlimited vacation). This is where employees can take off as many days as they like.
‘Unlimited vacation’ sounds great! And it can be, when companies implement it properly, as we’re seeing with tech and software companies like Netflix and Hubspot.
And it’s certainly a great recruiting tool.
However, when companies don’t implement it properly, flexible vacation tends to be underused more so than it is overused or abused. So companies need to be clear about their policy and ensure employees are empowered to take advantage of it. This often takes the form of setting a minimum number of vacation days that employees must take each year.
Note as well that the amount of work sabbaticals has tripled in recent years.
Given the costs associated with turnover, for many companies, allowing employees to take extended time off is now often the smart decision.
“Often, people will be more committed to their jobs when they don’t feel nickel and dimed with time off, especially when that time off represents having to choose between work and taking care of themselves, or fulfilling their other obligations in life,” says Emma Brudner, director of people operations at Lola.com, in a conversation with SHRM.
Finally, a variety of work environment types are bringing more flexibility to how we use the office or the worksite. Regardless of how flexible the company is otherwise.
Specifically, activity-based working, agile working, and office neighborhoods all reimagine the workspace, in ways that give power back to employees. They do this by putting employees in the driver’s seat when it comes to where they sit and who they sit with.
Despite their many benefits, these work types also add a layer of complexity to the physical office. They demand robust desk and room booking along with other tools we’ll explore below.
With the prevalence of both hybrid working and flexible working, many people use the two terms interchangeably.
But hybrid working is just one type of flexible working. And it can look quite different from organization to organization, depending on their goals.
While there’s theoretically an unlimited number of flexible working plans, we are seeing four hybrid work models emerging within the OfficeSpace client base. They are: traditionalist, architect, nomad, and pioneer. Where a company falls will depend on both their real estate goals, and how much flexibility they’re willing and able to give employees.
While all these models require their own separate game plans to optimize properly, they also all need the tools below to work optimally.
Creating a flexible work arrangement starts with trust. Companies have to trust their employees to do the work. As the pandemic made crystal clear, employees don’t need to be sitting in the office with a manager breathing down their neck to do their best work. In fact, people can be more productive when they’re able to determine what work should look like for them.
“Trust has to be the foundation for the workplace strategy,” says Angie. “Most people do the right thing. They enjoy the work that they’re doing. The labor market is too competitive now to not be doing what you love.”
Of course, you can only trust people to do the right thing, when they know what the right thing actually is. That’s why Maya Ketter, VP of Client Success at OfficeSpace, stresses the importance of clear communication around expectations.
“Make it tangible for people, and make them feel equal,” she says. “Make sure you empower them to make the right decisions.”
Companies may also want to consider smaller pilot trials before committing to any major changes. And they should be willing to pivot based on data and feedback. For this reason, workplace leaders need good reports and analytics to see how any new strategies are actually working.
Like Office Space CEO David Cocchiara stressed in a recent panel discussion about the foundations of a successful hybrid workplace, both employees and employers are still figuring out what real flexibility actually means.
“I predict we’re going to be on this journey over the next couple of years as both sides come together to figure out what flexibility means for them. So how flexibility is adopted will really be an experimentation. There’s no single answer of a perfect workplace that’s going to work for every company. So it’s really important we stay agile and test and measure new technologies and configurations,” he says.
Capturing employee sentiment is also essential when making any changes to working arrangements.
From there, companies need to create a safe and secure digital workspace all employees can access anywhere, any time. They will likely also need any and all of the following tools:
Many companies now also offer stipends to employees to help them establish a more comfortable and efficient home office environment.
The best flexible working arrangement is one that a company manages well and considers employee input.
Ultimately, employees need an environment that allows them to be both happy and productive. In many cases, this will include hybrid work and a flexible schedule. But whatever the case, it should always include as much employee autonomy as possible.
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