A “flexible” work environment refers to a workplace or work schedule that does not have the usual constraints of a traditional job. Instead, this setup takes the personal needs and work style of each employee into consideration and tries to address these needs without sacrificing productivity or changing goals.
Most often, companies associate this type of flexibility with working remotely, though it can also mean working unconventional hours. These practices gained mainstream acceptance with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced many employees to work remotely.
Examples of a Flexible Work Environment
Flexible work has many different meanings. All of these definitions involve working outside of a usual 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule. The flexibility can relate to time, location, or the way work or productivity gets measured.
Here are the most common examples of a flexible work environment.
- Compressed Schedules: Employees using compressed schedules to complete their workweek in fewer days. This arrangement typically involves working long hours a few days per week. For instance, you may choose to work 10 hours a day for four days instead of the typical eight hours daily for five days.
- Telecommuting: Also known as remote working, this arrangement allows employees to work either part-time or full-time from their homes or any other location. Remote workers may or may not have to be online during specific office hours.
- Hybrid Work: In the hybrid work model, employees only need to come into the office once or twice a week. Often, a team of hybrid workers will come in on the same day, and meetings or other face-to-face interactions will take place at that time. On other days, these workers telecommute.
- Job Sharing: In the less common job-sharing model, two or more part-time employees share the duties that would otherwise belong to one full-time worker. They may work from an office or remotely.
- Flextime: Flextime gives employees the freedom to structure their workday as they see fit. They may follow a specific timeline or measure productivity in terms of milestones or goals instead of time worked.
Regardless of the type of arrangement, there are steps that a company can take to help build a successful flexible work culture.
How to Build a Successful Flexible Work Culture
Operating a company that allows flexible scheduling requires planning. The goal is to create a different structure that replaces the usually Monday-through-Friday model. Though scheduling and location are relaxed, you need to establish other systems and policies to ensure that the company and employees reap the benefits of the flexible work arrangement without experiencing the potential drawbacks.
Here is what to consider when trying to build a thriving flexible work culture.
Provide the Right Tools
Communication tools, project management platforms, and scheduling software are essential for organizing workflow and tracking hours.
If you have employees working different hours in different locations, you need a centralized platform for schedules. An accessible schedule can enhance transparency and make it easier to organize workflow even if employees are in different places and working at different hours.
Ideally, you can provide a suite of tools that allow employees to track their hours. In some cases, such as in a fully remote or hybrid arrangement, you may want a system that uses technology like facial recognition to track time worked automatically.
Establish a Culture of Trust
Because they usually have to work independently, employees have a higher degree of autonomy than they do in a traditional office setting. Because of this, managers need to trust that their workers will handle the required tasks without direct oversight. Therefore, building a culture of trust involves giving employees the space to complete tasks on their own.
Time tracking tools and project management platforms can provide a non-intrusive way to track employees. At the same time, employees need to have ways to report to and receive help from management when they need it. They need to trust that management will respond to inquiries when needed.
Finally, employees need to trust each other when it comes to performing required tasks in a timely manner. Well-planned projects and transparent time-keeping can help everyone understand their assignments and track progress without having to inquire with an individual employee.
Provide the Necessary Training
Training for remote work needs to happen on two levels. First, all employees need to be familiar with the tools and platforms that they will use for communication, project management, and time-keeping. The best approach is to provide training upfront, even if the platform or application seems simple. This step ensures that everyone has the knowledge to use the necessary tools.
The second type of training involves ensuring that the employee has the skills and knowledge to complete their specific duties without direct oversight from a manager. Some employees may need continuing education or professional development training before they can feel confident to work in a remote environment.
Both types of training are important for employees who have not worked in a flexible environment before.
Create Clear Policies
Flexible workplace issues may arise from a lack of understanding about goals or rules. You can avoid this confusion by creating a robust flexible work policy. This step is not to provide rules that will restrict employee autonomy. Instead, the goal is to create clear guidelines and well-defined expectations that will help employees understand what is expected of them.
The policies can touch on expectations for working from home, scheduling rules, and notifications about how the company will monitor employees.
With remote work, one of the most common issues is information security. The policies should include an in-depth explanation of information security requirements and practices. Employees will need to ensure a secure internet connection, for example, when accessing sensitive company information at home.
With well-defined policies, you can avoid a lot of the most common issues associated with flexible work arrangements.
Ensure Efficient Communication
Communication is at the core of a successful flexible workforce. When people aren’t working face-to-face, the chance of miscommunication increases. It is harder to understand the nuances of messages, and employees do not want to waste time repeatedly confirming the meaning of each email or chat message.
Employers should put together a communication plan at the outset of each project to agree on how to transmit different types of information. They should also be sure to provide any necessary training on the relevant communication tools.
In addition to text-based communication, you can also consider video conferences and calls, which are sometimes a reliable stand-in for face-to-face conversations.
Challenges of a Flexible Workplace
Despite its emerging popularization and benefits, a flexible workplace also presents multiple problems that can impact a company’s productivity.
- Poor work-life balance: Working from home makes it difficult for employees to distinguish between working and home hours. This confusion could result in overwork or underwork. Employers can help by providing scheduling and hour tracking tools and only communicating with remote workers during their scheduled work hours.
- Procrastination: With less pressure related to task delivery, employees may develop poor time management or procrastinate. Again, clearly defined benchmarks and work schedules can help with such issues.
- Communication issues: In addition to the challenges associated with digital communication, a company may fall victim to system outages. They can avoid too much lost time by having contingency plans for communicating in the event of an outage.
The effective development of flexible work culture can counteract any problems and help create an efficient and productive workplace.