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.
flexible work environment
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.
Real-life Companies Building a Flexible Work Environment
The modern workplace is changing, and more companies are beginning to adopt flexible work policies. There are many benefits of having a flexible work environment, including reducing overhead costs, increasing employee morale, and attracting top talent.
Let’s draw inspiration from 5 such companies in the real world that have adopted flexible work environments:
One company that has been at the forefront of this movement is Google. Google has long been a proponent of flexible work, and they offer their employees a variety of options when it comes to working hours and locations.
For example, they allow their employees to work from home or from one of their many on-site “Googleplex” locations.
2. Virgin Group
Another company that has adopted a flexible work environment is the Virgin Group. The Virgin Group is made up of over 400 companies, and they offer their employees a variety of options when it comes to working hours and locations.
For example, they have an “unlimited vacation” policy, which allows their employees to take as much time off as they need.
Buffer is a company that provides social media management tools to businesses and individuals. They have a fully remote team, which means that their employees can work from anywhere in the world.
In addition to being able to choose their own working hours, Buffer also offers its employees a generous benefits package, which includes health insurance and a retirement savings plan.
Evernote is a company that provides a suite of tools for organizing, storing, and sharing information. They have a flexible work environment that allows their employees to choose their own hours and work from anywhere worldwide.
Basecamp is a project management tool that helps teams keep track of their work and communicate with each other. They have a remote team of over 60 people, which allows their employees to work from home.
In addition to being able to choose their own working hours, Basecamp also offers its employees a number of perks, including a fully stocked kitchen and a gym membership.
5 Benefits of a Flexible Work Environment
A flexible work environment can take many different forms, but the goal is always to make the workplace and employees’ schedules more adaptable. Here are five benefits that a flexible work environment can bring:
1. Increased Productivity
A study by Staples found that employees who had control over their work environment were 16% more productive than those who didn’t.
This is likely because when people feel comfortable and have some control over their surroundings, they naturally work better.
Think about your own company — how much more productive would your team be with a few simple changes, like adjustable desks or the ability to work from home once in awhile?
2. Improved Work/Life Balance
A flexible work environment can help employees better balance their work and personal lives. This is especially beneficial for working parents who need to pick up their kids from school or take them to doctor’s appointments.
With a traditional 9–5 job, these types of activities would often have to be put off until the evening or weekends, but with a more flexible schedule they can be worked into the day.
3. Reduced Stress Levels
A survey by Randstad found that 61% of employees who have a flexible work arrangement feel less stressed than those who don’t.
This is likely because employees who have a say in when and where they work are able to better manage their time, leading to less stress.
Having to constantly stick to tight deadlines about working hours can be a nightmare for some people, so a more flexible work environment can really help reduce stress levels.
4. Increased Motivation
When employees feel like they have some control over their work life, they are often more motivated to do their best. This is because they don’t feel as restricted and can approach their work in a way that suits their personal strengths and preferences.
5. Improved Retention Rates
Finally, offering a flexible work environment can help improve your company’s retention rates. This is because employees who are happy with their job are less likely to leave, and a flexible work arrangement is often seen as a perk.
In fact, a study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 89% of employees said that a flexible work schedule would be “extremely” or “very” important to them when considering a job.
With the cost of hiring becoming extortionate in recent years, this is a huge benefit that shouldn’t be ignored.
Is Flexibility Good for Every Company?
The answer to this question is not a simple one. It depends on the company’s culture, the type of work being done, and the employees themselves. Being flexible might be a great idea for the following types of companies:
Companies with a Distributed Workforce
For these companies, it is often logistically easier and cheaper to have a more flexible work arrangement.
Employees are not tied to one physical office, which gives both the company and the employee a lot of freedom when it comes to hours and location.
Companies with Seasonal Work
Seasonal businesses have fluctuations in their workload throughout the year. It would not make sense for these companies to keep a full-time staff all year round if there are only busy periods during specific seasons.
A more flexible work environment allows these businesses to staff up and down as needed, without having to worry about the financial burden of paying for unused office space and equipment during slow periods.
Companies with New Parents
Many new parents find it difficult to juggle the demands of a full-time job with childcare responsibilities. A flexible work schedule can be a lifesaver for these employees, allowing them to better balance their work and home lives.
Additionally, studies have shown that employees who are able to take advantage of flexible work arrangements are more productive and have lower rates of absenteeism.
Companies with Older Employees
Older employees often have different needs than their younger counterparts.
They might have grandchildren they want to spend time with, health concerns that require a different schedule, or simply a desire to semi-retire without leaving the workforce entirely.
A flexible work environment can allow these employees to stay on with the company while accommodating their changing needs.
Companies with Remote Employees
With the rise of technology, more and more employees are working remotely, either full-time or part-time.
This type of arrangement can be a great way to attract and retain top talent, as it gives employees the freedom to work from anywhere in the world.
Additionally, remote workers are often more productive than their office-bound counterparts, as they have fewer distractions and can create a schedule that works best for them.
Where Might Flexible Work Environments Not Work?
On the other hand, there are some companies where flexible working might be a terrible idea — such as the following companies:
Companies with Time-Sensitive Projects
If a company is working on a project with a tight deadline, they will need all hands on deck during specific periods and flexible work arrangements might get in the way of that.
Companies with Face-to-Face Businesses
Some businesses, such as retail stores or restaurants, rely on face-to-face interaction with their customers. In these cases, it is important to have employees who are available during the company’s busiest hours.
Companies with New Employees
Flexible work arrangements can be confusing for new employees who are still trying to learn the ropes. In this case, it might be better to have a more traditional work setup so that newbies can better understand their roles and how the company operates.
Companies in Competitive Industries
If a company is in a highly competitive industry, they might not be able to afford to have a flexible work force. It is often necessary to put in long hours and be available at all times in order to stay ahead of the competition.
Companies with Physical Products
Companies that produce physical products will often need their employees to be in the same place at the same time in order to collaborate on product development or manufacturing.
A flexible work force would not work well in these types of companies.
Best Technologies to Build a Flexible Work Environment
The following are some of the best technologies to help create a more flexible work environment:
- Flexible job boards: These online resources allow employees to search for jobs with flexible hours, locations, and arrangements.
- Telecommuting software: This type of software helps managers keep track of employee progress and activity while working remotely.
- Project management software: This software can be used to plan, assign, and track tasks and deadlines related to specific projects.
- Time tracking software: This type of software helps managers and employees track the time spent on specific tasks, which can help identify areas where more flexibility is needed.
- Calendar sharing: This technology allows employees to share their schedules with each other, which can help coordinate work tasks and avoid conflicts.
While these technologies can help create a more flexible work environment, it is important to remember that not all employees will thrive in this type of setup.
Some people prefer the structure and routine of a traditional job, and that’s okay! The key is to find what works best for each individual and then create a work environment that meets those needs.
Is Being Flexible the Future?
The trend of companies moving towards a more flexible work environment is likely to continue, as there are many benefits for both businesses and employees.
For businesses, a flexible work environment can lead to increased productivity and decreased overhead costs. For employees, a flexible work environment can lead to improved work-life balance and increased job satisfaction.
It seems an obvious consequence of the world going more and more virtual. With the rise of technology, businesses are finding that they can function just as well, if not better, without the traditional constraints of a 9-to-5 workday or a central office location.
What do you think? Is being flexible the future?