Flexible working is an increasingly popular way of working. It lets employees move away from rigid 9-to-5 arrangements over which they have no control. Instead, workers have more say over when and where they work, which can lead to more employee satisfaction and productivity, among other benefits.
Fueled by the pandemic, both employees and employers are now embracing flexible working like never before.
In this article, we explore flexible working and why it’s here to stay. We’ll also include examples of this new way of working, its many benefits, and how organizations and facility managers (FMs) can embrace it to better support their teams.
Discover the four models companies are using to adapt to hybrid work—and how to make them work for you.
Flexible working is any work arrangement that moves away from a traditional work model and allows employees to work when, where and/or how best suits their needs and preferences. It generally starts with the employees’ needs first, and then balances those with the goals of the organization.
Whether they let employees work a flexible schedule or compressed workweek, or choose from a variety of other work options, companies that embrace flexible working gain happier employees and therefore better work from them.
In fact, flexible working has proven so beneficial to work/life balance that in the UK, it’s considered a legal right; employers there have a legal obligation to handle flexible working requests in a reasonable manner.
While companies elsewhere may not have the legal requirement to accommodate flexible working, embracing it is a great way to attract and keep top talent. Thus, it can future proof their organization.
We often hear that hybrid work is the ‘future of work’. While this may be true, it’s not the whole picture. Flexible work as a whole is shaping our “new normal,” and hybrid is just one piece of that flexible puzzle.
Flexible working can be more challenging to manage than other styles. This means that companies and FMs can benefit from an Integrated Workplace Management System. This can help ensure everyone has the tools they need to be most productive.
Don’t think it’s just Millennials who are demanding flexible work, although LinkedIn does report that 78% of them would switch jobs for a better work/life balance alone.
A recent Harris Poll survey commissioned by OfficeSpace found that across all demographics, as people return to work in a post-coronavirus environment, the majority want to maintain some degree of flexibility.
In fact, 43% of those surveyed said they’d leave their job if required to return to the office full-time. In other words, 43% of workers are demanding some level of flexibility.
The reality is that most research points to a simple fact: All generations in the workplace want greater flexibility and control over their work.
Flexible hours are just one component of flexible working, whether that’s working fewer days, part-time, or flexitime, for example.
Some workers are early birds, and some are night owls.
Some have families, caregiving duties, or hobbies that affect when they’re available during the day.
The traditional 9-to-5 is based on a false premise: that we all live the same and work the same. Meanwhile, flexible working lets employees maximize their own unique schedules.
Offering employees flexible working hours honors everyone’s individual reality, but it is only one way to bring flexibility into the workspace.
Similarly, flexible seating is just one possible component of flexible working. When coupled with flexible hours in a smart way, flexible seating can greatly improve the employee experience.
Just like the 9-to-5 workday is becoming a relic of the past, so too are the once ubiquitous assigned cubicles.
There’s no doubt that seating in the office will look different in the post-pandemic workplace. Employers are now embracing a number of flexible seating arrangements that can improve productivity while also maintaining social distancing. These can include hot desking, reverse hoteling, and office neighborhoods.
Often improved by IoT sensors, flexible seating lets employees move around to whatever space works best for them, given their current task and state of mind.
Flexible working adds a paradigm-shifting layer of malleability to the office, but it’s not a free-for-all. Offices need clear work policies and guidelines to make flexible work environments run smoothly.
Namely, flexible working works best when it follows one of the following three working patterns:
Agile working is the most extreme interpretation of flexible work. In it, it’s ultimately the employees who get to choose when, where, and even how they do their work. Flexible work schedules, flexible working hours, and remote working all feature prominently in an agile work environment.
In fact, agile working is so intimately connected and similar to flexible working that the terms are often used interchangeably.
Activity-based working (ABW) creates dynamic physical workspaces, in which the activity being done dictates where workers sit for the day—whether that’s in private offices, shared desks, collaborative spaces, or meeting rooms. This typically requires robust room booking and desk booking software to manage properly.
Note that while ABW gives employees control over how they use the office, they may or may not have control over when they use it.
Finally, hybrid work is any arrangement that uses a blend of in-office workers, remote workers, and workers who toggle between the two.
It has emerged as a top working environment type, along with four hybrid work models, each of which offers varying degrees of flexibility to workers. Where organizations fall on this spectrum depends on how they weigh their corporate real estate needs—which are often driven by financial considerations—versus employee experience.
The traditionalist model is one that only incorporates the minimum amount of flexibility needed to keep workers happy; companies using this model will have mostly in-office workers, working mostly set, typical schedules.
On the other end of the spectrum, hybrid pioneers are working as remotely and flexibly as their workers and IWMS will allow. They may not even have a traditional office, opting instead for smaller, collaborative work and meeting spaces.
And in the middle are the hybrid architects and nomads, who are more evenly mixing remote and in-office work, in more or less flexible ways.
In any of these models, hybrid work is inherently flexible, which is one of many reasons it is coming to dominate the current working landscape.
As we’ll explore below, companies can use any of these frameworks to create a wide variety of work arrangements.
In theory, the sky’s the limit when it comes to flexible work. In reality, it tends to follow one of these seven key examples:
Thanks to the pandemic, telework is here to stay, and fully remote workers are the poster children for flexible work.
The hybrid workforce works in multiple places, whether at home, on the road, in a coffee shop, or in the office.
To accommodate different preferences and needs, flexitime lets employees choose when to start and end the day. This often leads to a better work/life balance.
Working Monday to Friday is so ingrained in our culture, it’s almost sacrilegious to suggest alternatives. That said, shorter workweeks can lead to a better quality of life, along with a better quality of work.
In this scenario, workers are placed in groups and given a work from home rotation schedule, ie.: everyone on one shift is at home, while everyone on the other is in the office. This is often used to help manage physical distancing in the post-pandemic workplace.
In this arrangement, two part-time workers share the responsibilities—and remuneration—of a full time job. It can be particularly helpful when accommodating parental leave, carers, or other skilled employees who aren’t looking for full-time work.
Many companies now offer flexible time off (FTO), in which employees have more control over their time off. It’s sometimes called ‘Unlimited Vacation,’ which is a misnomer, since employees don’t actually have unlimited vacations. They simply have less limits on their time off, like not needing to accrue days, or to choose between taking sick days and vacation days.
Why is flexibility important in work?
The answer is simple: flexibility offers so many benefits to organizations, they make it hard to ignore.
Namely, whichever models or elements of flexible working they choose to embrace, companies can expect to derive the following benefits.
We are in an unprecedented era of employee turnover, and staff retention has never been more important. Since workers are demanding more flexibility, employers that offer it are giving them more of a reason to stay.
Consider that a study from Deloitte found that lack of flexibility is the leading reason for Millennials to quit their jobs. And a Stanford University study found that companies can reduce employee turnover rates by 50%, just by offering remote work flexibility.
Clearly, companies that want to keep their top talent should consider offering some degree of flexible working.
Unprecedented employee turnover also means that attracting top talent can be a challenge. Giving workers what they want is one of the best ways to attract them. Offering flexible working gives the employer a competitive edge in an employee’s market.
Moreover, if a company embraces remote working, they are no longer restricted by the labor force in their immediate location. This means they can attract the best workers from anywhere in the country, or even the globe.
It’s natural for employers to resist true flexibility, because the working models that have dominated for so long centered around an inherent lack of trust in the employee. The wisdom was that the only way to get good work was to keep everyone on a strict clock, under strict guidance.
But when employees no longer have to stress about start times and finish times, an amazing thing can happen. They actually become more productive.
People generally know how to manage their own time and limit distractions. Most people want to do good work, and most people know how to do good work.
When the focus shifts to output—versus hours spent sitting at a desk—it’s perhaps not surprising that productivity and quality of work increase.
Plus, when they have some flexibility with their schedule and location, employees are less likely to need to quit or be absent when life circumstances inevitably change.
The hybrid workplace can lead to a better employee experience, because along with greater freedom, it can also create a better work/life balance. Employees who have more autonomy aren’t just more productive—they’re also much happier.
Happier workers who are less stressed will also be healthier workers, and flexible working improves health and wellness in more ways as well.
Namely, flexible working workspaces can also make it easier to ensure social distancing at the office. Cramming people in cubicles like sardines just won’t cut it anymore.
Especially when coupled with a tool like Safeguard that makes it easier to comply with safety standards and regulations, flexible working can make a much safer and sounder post-pandemic workplace.
Flexible working can help companies save money.
Real estate and related expenses are often a company’s biggest expense after payroll. When fewer workers are using the office, or using the office in a smarter way, that often means square footage can be repurposed or reduced.
That said, companies will typically only realize these cost savings when FMs are tracking real time space utilization and using this data to make better decisions about their existing office space.
Cutting back on real estate doesn’t just affect the bottom line. It also affects the planet. That’s because a smaller office creates a smaller carbon footprint.
Ultimately, flexible working can help organizations better manage their triple bottom lines—people, planet, and profit.
Flexible working is quickly becoming the standard in workspaces, and it’s clearly something most workers now expect.
Companies should start to embrace flexible working because in the future it “will just be normal,” as Gill Stewart, Managing Director of Capability Jane, is quoted in Forbes.
Specifically, companies will need to focus on four critical areas to make flexible working work for them.
In order to plan for a better office, FMs need to have a strategy that is informed by the work being done, and by where and how employees want to do it.
Any new flexible working arrangement should begin with employee preferences. The only way to understand these preferences is to consult with the employees themselves.
That’s why collaboration in the workplace between FM and HR teams can be critical. HR may be better equipped to communicate with employees, both in the implementation and rollout stages of flexible working.
Like we’ve covered, many companies are using flexible working to reduce their office space. As such, flexible working often requires an office redesign, especially if companies will be using office neighborhoods or ABW.
Ultimately, the office needs to reflect how it’s being used on a day-to-day basis. For some companies, that will mean more private workstations. For others, it will mean more collaborative spaces and meeting rooms. The goal for FMs should be to work closely with employees and analyze space utilization data to make the best possible use of their design budget.
And since ‘flexible’ actually means ‘easily modified,’ FMs shouldn’t be surprised if they have to continually make small design adjustments or even redesign the office, as they work on getting flexible working ‘right.’
One of the few downsides of flexible working is that it is more difficult to manage than more traditional models.
Thankfully, today’s space management software can handle all the moving parts. This makes it easy for flexible workers to book desks, book rooms, and submit requests.
Navigating a flexible office that changes from day-to-day is another challenge that can be met with the right technology. Namely, FMs can use their space management software to implement comprehensive wayfinding that makes it easier to connect with who and what you need. Digital signage can also help in this regard.
Visibility in a flexible office is also crucial; employees need to be able to know where their coworkers currently are, and where they plan to be. Offering a Visual Directory to provide this visibility can therefore be helpful, especially when it’s available through a mobile app and/or integrated with other software a team already uses.
FMs should be able to meet these employee needs with the right software, but they should still collaborate with IT to ensure all staff have the digital tools they need to work in-office and/or remotely. This typically means a laptop or tablet, and a good connection to the internet.
IT teams can also help ensure that in-office employees don’t plug into the wrong network and inadvertently put the building automation system at risk.
Another pitfall of flexible working is that it can make collaboration challenging. Far flung teams will inherently find it harder to collaborate than those who share a water cooler and a lunch break.
FMs can meet this increased need by embracing tools that make hybrid meetings easier. This can include using Zoom meetings with calendar integration.
Meanwhile, tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack can make day-to-day collaboration as effortless as possible.
And even companies that are 100% remote may want to consider in-person team building events.
Finally, crystal clear policies and guidelines are critical in a flexible working environment. So too is an open door policy, so that employees can bring any and all concerns and ideas to either FMs or management.
Having this support in place will ensure that flexible workers have everything they need to be most productive and optimally engaged.
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It’s important to be flexible at work for the same reason it’s important to be flexible at life: because things change quickly, and those that embrace change and adapt quickly are those that survive.
Flexible working isn’t just about hanging loose with a “come what may” attitude.
It’s about creating a future proof organization that can weather change, while also supporting employees to do the same.
Photos: Max Vakhtbovych, Helena Lopes, Los Muertos Crew, Jopwell, Magnet.me