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.
Benefits Of A Flexible Workplace
There are many benefits of a flexible workplace. Here are five of the most important ones in further detail.
1. Increased productivity
Studies have shown that employees who have more control over their work environment are more productive.
Think about it: an employee who can take a break when they need one or adjust their workstation to their liking is going to be more comfortable and, as a result, more productive.
If an employee is able to be flexible in how they conduct their work, they will be more likely to find the best way to get their work done efficiently and effectively.
2. Improved work-life balance
A flexible workplace can help employees achieve a better work-life balance. When employees have the ability to control their own schedules, they can better manage their time so that they can make time for both their work and personal responsibilities.
This is especially beneficial for working parents who need to juggle work with childcare or other family obligations.
Consider an employee that is able to leave work early one day to take their child to a doctor’s appointment — would they benefit from a flexible workplace? The answer seems apparent.
3. Reduced stress levels
Employees working in a flexible workplace often report lower levels of stress as they feel like they have more control over their work environment and their schedules.
When employees feel like they are in charge of their own destiny, they are less likely to feel stressed out by their job.
A flexible workplace can also reduce stress levels by giving employees the ability to take breaks when they need them or work from home when they are feeling sick.
4. Improved morale
Employees working flexibly also often have improved morale. This is because they feel appreciated by their employer and trust that their employer has their best interests in mind.
When there is an element of trust between employer and employee, the employees are more likely to be motivated to do their best work. A flexible workplace can further improve morale by giving employees the ability to pursue passions outside of work.
For example, an employee who is able to take a yoga class during their lunch break is likely to feel happier and more fulfilled than a disengaged employee who is stuck at their desk all day.
5. Greater retention rates
Employees who have a flexible workplace are more likely to stay with their employer for a longer period of time.
When employees feel like their employer cares about them, they are less likely to look for a new job.
A flexible workplace can also help retain employees by giving them the ability to take on new responsibilities or learn new skills. For example, an employee who is able to take on a new project or attend a training course is likely to feel more fulfilled than an employee who is stuck in the same position day after day.
It’s clear to see that a flexible workplace has many benefits, both for employers and employees.
When employers offer a flexible workplace, they are likely to see increased productivity, improved morale, and reduced stress levels.
Employees who have a flexible workplace often report a better work-life balance and greater job satisfaction. If you are considering offering a flexible workplace, consider the many benefits it can offer. You won’t be disappointed.
When Is A Flexible Workplace Most Important?
Although a flexible workplace might sound like a great idea in every situation, there are some cases where it is more important than others. Here are three instances where a flexible workplace can make all the difference:
1. When you have a unique schedule
If your work schedule is different from the traditional 9–5, then a flexible workplace can be a lifesaver. For example, if you are a night owl and do your best work in the evening, then having a job that allows you to start later and finish later can be ideal.
Unique schedules are becoming the status quo nowadays with the rise of remote working. It’s a very real possibility that you could be working in a job that is based in another country or across different time zones.
In these cases, a flexible workplace can be essential to ensuring that you can still get your work done effectively.
2. When you need to balance work and life commitments
If you have other commitments outside of work, then a flexible workplace can help you to manage these effectively. For example, if you have young children at home, then being able to adjust your working hours around childcare can be vital.
Alternatively, if you are caring for an elderly relative, then having the ability to work from home some days can make a big difference.
There are now more opportunities than ever before to have a flexible job that meets your needs, so it is worth considering this option if you have other commitments that you need to balance alongside work.
3. When you want to improve your work-life balance
Even if you don’t have any other major commitments outside of work, having a flexible workplace can still be beneficial in terms of your work-life balance.
If you find that you are always working long hours and never have any time for yourself, then a flexible job that allows you to work fewer hours could be a good option.
It might also be the case that you have a job that is very demanding and stressful. Being able to take some time out during the week to look after your wellbeing can make a big difference. There are many different ways to achieve a better work-life balance, and a flexible workplace can be a key part of this.
4. When you need to save money
If you’re trying to save money, a flexible work environment could help you out. For example, if you are able to work from home some days, then you can save money on things like travel costs and lunch expenses.
Alternatively, if you have a job that allows you to choose your own hours, then you can save money by working fewer hours and taking on a part-time role.
For companies, flexible working arrangements can also save money on things like office space and equipment.
5. When you want to be more productive
If you feel like you are always rushed and stressed at work, then a flexible workplace can help you to be more productive. Being able to take breaks when you need them and have a more relaxed working environment can be very helpful and contribute positively to your work rate.
If you are able to design your own working hours around when you are most productive, then you can make the most of your time and get more done.
Challenges Of A Flexible Workplace
We’ve gone through the advantages that a flexible workplace provides, but what about the challenges?
There are several potential issues that can come about when implementing a flexible workplace. Let’s delve a little deeper into each of these:
Change can be difficult
Any change can be difficult, and a flexible workplace is no different. When introducing a new way of working, it’s important to consider how this will impact employees. Will they feel comfortable with the new arrangements? How will they adapt to the changes?
Your employees might be resistant to change at first, but it’s important to remember that a flexible workplace can offer many benefits. With the right support and training, employees will soon come to see the advantages of this kind of workplace.
In order to make the transition that much easier, try to provide as much information as possible about the changes, and be available to answer any questions that your employees might have.
There might be some teething problems
When introducing a new way of working, there might be some teething problems. It’s crucial to remember that this is normal, and with a little patience and perseverance, these issues will soon be resolved.
In the meantime, try to stay positive and keep communicating with your employees. It’s also a good idea to have a contingency plan in place, in case any problems do arise.
You need to be prepared to adapt
A flexible workplace isn’t a static concept – it’s something that can evolve over time. As your business grows and changes, you might need to adjust the way you work.
For example, you might need to introduce new policies or procedures, or change the way you use technology. It’s important to be prepared for these eventualities, and to have a plan in place for how you’ll adapt your workplace.
There might be some resistance from upper management
While the benefits of a flexible workplace are clear, there might be some resistance from upper management. This is because a flexible workplace can challenge traditional ideas about work, and how it should be done.
If you’re facing resistance from senior managers, it’s important to have a discussion about the advantages of this kind of workplace. Once they understand the benefits, they should be on board with the idea.
Introducing a flexible workplace can be a challenge, but it’s important to remember the many advantages that this kind of workplace can offer. With the right planning and preparation, you can make sure that your transition to a flexible workplace is a success.
A flexible work environment can be a huge asset to any company, so make sure you take a second look at the tips above to find out how to build a more flexible workplace.
However, it’s important to be prepared for the challenges that might come with it. With the right planning and support, you can make sure that your flexible workplace is a success. Good luck!