Understanding how to be flexible at work has never been more important. It’s how employees, employers, and IT and management teams can best respond to rising challenges—from global pandemics, to what happens when the copier breaks down, and everything in between.
In this article, we explore what it means to be flexible at work, including why it’s so important, and how to embrace more flexibility in the workplace.
Flexible, adaptable, resilient—these are all characteristics we’d like in our personal lives, and they benefit us at work, too.
Being flexible at work means being able to adapt to changing circumstances and unexpected events with grace and resiliency. Work flexibility means taking lemons—like a forced lockdown—and making lemonade—like creating a new hybrid work model that leads to more productivity and happier workers.
There are many flexible work arrangements that companies can adopt to let employees work when, where, and/or how they like.
There are also many flexible seating configurations that get employees out of stifling cubicles and into more inspiring workspaces.
But being flexible at work is more than just having a non-traditional work schedule or funky stand-up desks.
Being flexible at work means embracing change and new challenges. It also means using them as opportunities to create new and improved systems and processes; it’s not just being able to change, but also being willing to, and maybe even excited about it.
More and more companies are offering flexible work environments. And flexible employees are those that embrace these environments and use them to their advantage.
For employees, being flexible at work means staying open and creative, always keeping your skill set up to date, and learning how to balance your personal needs with the needs of your co-workers and company overall.
That means embracing remote or hybrid work if your company offers it, and figuring out a way to make it work for your life. If your company offers activity-based working (ABW), then actively think about how you’ll engage with the workplace to everyone’s benefit—including your own. If your company offers flexible work hours, then you can ensure that your full-time job is one that is done at the most convenient time for you.
Say your company decides to do away with assigned seats to adopt a free addressing workplace.
It might be scary to give up ‘your’ desk, but it’s the open minded employees with can-do attitudes that are more likely to thrive in this new set-up. By embracing the change, you can understand its implications, and use what you learn to make suggestions to improve it.
In other words, you may not be able to control your employer’s policies, but you can certainly control how you respond to them. For example, in this free addressing scenario, you might be able to suggest installing private lockers. This way, you and your co-workers can still have a private space in the office. It’s a much better approach than sticking your head in the sand.
For employers, being flexible at work is about creating a company culture that supports employees. The culture should aim to take full advantage of the latest software and strategies to support them.
Job sharing between part-time team members, telecommuting, compressed workweeks, flextime—there are almost countless ways to offer flexibility at work. This typically means implementing the right flexible framework, whether that’s ABW, agile working, neighborhood work, or a hybrid work schedule.
It also means adopting cloud-based software to create a digital workspace that can be accessed anywhere. This should be in addition to tools to support collaboration in the workplace, like video conferencing, asynchronous messaging, and mobile apps
And it means introducing robust technology that allows for desk booking, room booking, hot desking, hoteling, and office neighborhoods. Or or whatever other system they develop for using the office space.
Only when all these key areas are optimized will employers be able to create workplace flexibility that actually leads to higher job satisfaction and more productivity.
Finally, employers should also be upfront and give employees clear expectations. Working to create more flexibility is not the same thing as a free-for-all. Employees still need clear guidelines to do their best work.
“Communication with employees is key in the new, flexible workplace,” stresses OfficeSpace CEO David Cocchiara. “Companies need to make sure all employees are informed on how, what, when, and why.”
The heart of flexibility at work often lies with the IT, HR and facilities management (FM) teams who are responsible for implementing any new flexible work policy or flexible work schedules.
The goal for management teams should always be giving employees the tools and visibility they need to make any quick pivots necessary for whatever tasks they’re trying to accomplish. They do this by planning a more flexible space. Employees need tools to adapt to changing circumstances. Companies also need to still meet the personal needs of their staff. Better communication tools are where this starts.
“Ultimately, we’ve found that the easier you make it for workplace leaders to help keep people connected, the more willing they will be to take those smaller, necessary steps towards a more flexible work environment,” says Luke Anderson, VP of Product and Strategy at OfficeSpace.
To accomplish these goals, managers also need move management tools that allow for stack planning and scenario planning.
Ideally, these tools will be part of an integrated workplace management system (IWMS) that also provides real-time reports and analytics. This can be used to improve space utilization, along with all aspects of interacting with the office.
For our money, one of the best examples of flexibility at work comes from how Syneos Health® navigated the pandemic. Pivoting to remote work was certainly a challenge for everyone. But Syneos Health had to navigate an even more difficult one: keeping five critical sites open in a safe and controlled manner. By embracing new tools and ways of thinking, the organization was able to stay safe, compliant, and operational. And even make better plans for the future.
Syneos Health is the only fully integrated biopharmaceutical solutions organization. Their facilities cater to cross-functional teams that require in-office access. Yes—many companies could pivot to remote work, but you simply can’t take cutting-edge lab work home.
Their solution was to empower each of their five locations to develop their own custom strategies to stay open safely. Instead of a top-down approach, they let each facility choose what worked best for their unique situation.
Each Office Activation Team was also given best-in-class tools to control capacity, manage desk bookings, monitor office usage, and keep employees safe. And these same OfficeSpace are now being used to help teams plan for the future.
“Knowing who’s using our offices, having good data on occupancy, good data, and utilization, that’s going to be critical as we fine tune the portfolio on the other side of this [pandemic],” says Patrick Hoffman, SVP of Corporate Real Estate and Services at Syneos Health. “And I can’t imagine how you would do that without a tool like OfficeSpace.”
Like we’ve covered, being flexible is about adapting to change. But it’s also about using change as a vehicle to new opportunities. Syneos Health is an example of flexibility of work wherein a smart response to a crisis actually leads to a stronger and more resilient organization.
It’s always been important to be flexible at work. Recessions, inflation, the advent of the internet, 9/11—every generation in the workplace has had its own unique challenges. Today, up to five generations are now working side-by-side in an office that is rapidly changing, perhaps like never before.
Yes, the pandemic required a dramatic, overnight change.
But this change only cemented what was already coming—a changing workplace of the future that is more adaptable and more remote.
Specifically, the future of work is hybrid. Most companies are finding themselves in a position where either they or their employees—and often both—want to allow for both in-office and remote work.
When both employees and employers stay flexible at work, they’re better able to rise to the challenges of the changing workplace. Additionally, they’re more likely to reap both the benefits of working remotely and the benefits of flexible work overall.
The benefits of being flexible at work are similar to those of being flexible in your personal life; things change, new circumstances arrive, and the better we control our response, the better off we typically are.
Specifically, there are many benefits of work flexibility:
Giving employees the tools to support communication and the flexibility to find a working style that fits their preferences is more likely to improve the employee experience.
A Stanford University study found employees working from home are 50% less likely to quit; This has never been more important than now during the Great Resignation.
The same study found working from home to be 13% more productive. And we’re seeing numerous studies now showing what should be quite obvious: employees who get to choose where they work tend to choose spaces where they’ll work better.
Like the Syneos Health example illustrates, flexible companies can keep employees safe and maintain social distancing, no matter what their physical requirements.
Companies that adopt a flexible schedule are often able to cut back on their real estate portfolio (assuming they are using good space management software). This can have a profound positive impact on the bottom line.
Similarly, having a smaller office space also means having a smaller carbon footprint;. Moreover, remote and hybrid teams are teams that don’t need to commute to work daily. Again, this can have a positive environmental impact.
Employees that have more flexibility, and thus, more autonomy, are more likely to be more productive and more creative. With the flexibility to work the way they want, the sky’s the limit!
In theory, companies that use remote workers have a global talent pool for new hires. Among other benefits, this can lead to greater diversity in the office.
Every generation in the office wants a better work-life balance and is therefore demanding more flexibility in some form.
Ultimately, flexibility is important to the bottom line of a company, and it’s also what employees are demanding.
For example, a Flexjobs survey found that 70% of Millennials would consider leaving a job without flexible benefits. And a recent OfficeSpace survey found that the majority of workers want to return to the office after the pandemic, but only part time. In other words, a return to less flexible ‘regular work’ just won’t cut it anymore.
This suggests that even if these benefits of flexible working don’t convince companies of its importance, the negative consequences of not being flexible should.
Given all the benefits of being flexible at work, it’s no surprise that employees and employers are clamoring to demonstrate how flexible they are.
For employees, showing flexibility at work is about being a team player who is open to new workspaces and strategies.
Flexible employees are continually developing new skills and keeping up with industry trends, so that they’re always ready for new challenges. They should do their best to learn how to use new technology for improved collaboration, and stay flexible when it comes to their schedule. They should also communicate well, and be willing to work with their company to develop workplace policies that benefit everyone.
Meanwhile, employers show they are flexible at work by committing to implementing and optimizing flexible workplace policies.
This means walking the walk.
It’s not enough to say you’re a flexible workplace, when all you really have is a relaxed dress code and maybe some fun room names as part of your office design.
Flexible companies have to actually do the hard work of supporting different working schedules, locations, and employee needs.
This includes using workplace management software to support different schedules and working styles, giving employees what they need, and possibly reconfiguring the office layout if necessary.
Sometimes, our only choice when it comes to change is our attitude.
The best way to show flexibility at work is also the best way to actually be flexible at work: by staying open minded.
Whether you’re a full-time freelancer, commuting to a part time job, or in a more traditional 9-to-5 workday, showing flexibility at work means seeing challenges as opportunities, and using them to spur positive changes and growth.
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