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4 ways to maximize the benefits of flexibility

Flexibility is more than a pandemic fad. Follow these four steps to ensure your business is reaping the benefits of a holistic approach to workplace culture.

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Posted On Jun 27, 2023 

Three years after the pandemic first made Zoom calls a daily staple, the subject of flexibility – what it means, how to make it work, whether to double down or rein it back – remains a hot topic.


And there’s a lot more to it than simply acquiescing to employee demands to work from home or vary their hours.


Research by the Italian Smart Working Observatory outlined a key difference between companies putting on a “smart working front” and those implementing “real smart working”. The former allows remote work only to improve work-life balance while the latter focuses on objectives to expand the combination of benefits for people as well as organizations.


To capitalize on its benefits, flexible working should be considered holistically and inclusively. The shake-ups of the last few years are an opportunity for a smart company to assess its whole process and combine all the positives of the way we work today.


Here are four ways to really make flexibility a boon for your business:


1. Ask for feedback

Engaging with a remote or hybrid team demands a specific set of managerial skills. It’s important to recognize this to maintain optimal output. How can managers ensure they don’t alienate remote workers versus those who are in the office? How do they know if certain team members are feeling isolated and left behind? By speaking to them and getting their honest feedback.


Even though 75% of employees believe feedback is valuable and impactful on their performance, less than 30% report getting it, according to statistics from OakEngage. What’s more, companies with a good, regular feedback process experience nearly 15% lower employee turnover.


A system of feedback is undoubtedly trickier to perfect when some of your workers are in the office and others are spread around remote locations - maybe even different time zones. The natural ebb and flow of communication is bound to shift in shape and rhythm.

But this shouldn’t dissuade managers from asking everybody what works for them; what suggestions they have to help them connect better; what innovations they’ve heard about elsewhere that could possibly add value here; their views on what you’re already doing. And it goes both ways. Workers should hear from you about what works and where they could improve. Just because they are out of sight doesn’t mean they should be out of mind. These workers can still benefit from constructive criticism and support in hitting performance targets.


And don’t stop talking to each other. Diary feedback sessions in regularly, because the world of work has never evolved so quickly and staying on top of its trends is crucial.

2. Understand differences


Why are your workers asking for remote or hybrid options? Why do some want fewer hours? Or more? You need to understand what’s happening when they’re not on the clock. Flexibility goes well beyond simply when and where we work. It should also be about how and why we work.


Some will be working just to earn, happy to soak up overtime to fund better holidays or a house deposit. Flexible working may simply mean that cutting the commute allows extra time to work longer hours rather than spending 90 minutes a day on a train, unpaid.


Others will be building skills and experience, which means connecting with and learning from their peers and managers is crucial.

A number will have caregiving responsibilities, for children or elderly or disabled family.

Then there are those approaching retirement or re-emerging from it in need of purpose (or more income). Work-life balance is often at the forefront of their thinking but they may be the most low maintenance and independent of your team - and (usefully) the most willing to tell it how it is.


Some may be neurodivergent and find themselves much more productive in a comfortable home environment.


Understanding the circumstances, pressures and responsibilities will help you create a flexible, empathetic pattern to minimize stress and get the very best out of your people. Only good can come from that.


3. Craft the conditions


Flexible working is only successful when it’s smooth. This means quality tech, fast and safe connections and a reliable platform. A lack of any of these can put a stone wall between you and your workers.

Physical conditions matter, too. Are they crouched over a laptop on the edge of a bed? Are they at a kitchen table with family and traffic noise in the background? In the UK, the Institute of Employment Studies found a huge jump in musculoskeletal complaints in remote workers during the pandemic. A shocking 58% of workers reported new aches and pains in the neck, 56% in shoulders and 55% in the back. In parallel, it also found evidence of loss of sleep, diet degradation and mental health struggles.


Companies should also consider how flexible working impacts expectations vis-à-vis professionalism and timeliness, for example. Just because workers are at home doesn’t mean there should be lots of leeway with regards to their attitude, approach, methodology and attention to detail. The boundaries between work hours and private time should be crystal clear – which can be hard to do when fully remote. Workers should be working at home, not living at work!


4. Paint the big picture

What is it all about, ultimately? What are you, as an organization, trying to achieve through flexibility? Like any other model, it should be considered in an overarching plan. As established here, flexibility has a broad definition, so It’s important to consider what kind of flexibility would work for your organizational goals. What shape do you need it take?


Reorganizing for flexibility should suit both worker and employer and offer benefits to both. Set up goals and reviews and strategies to measure how well your flexible measures are working. Productivity, retention and good workplace culture are your markers, along with a long-term business trajectory which encompasses sustainability, inclusivity and diversity.


Happily, flexible workforces are usually noted for excelling in all of the above. If you’re doing it right, you’re already winning.


Whether you’re looking to implement your first flexible working model or finetuning the one you already have, our LHH experts can help you. Get in touch today!