Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, millennials’ desire for work-life balance was a hot topic. As various Gallup polls show, millennials already had a reputation as the least engaged group of workers, with the highest turnover and lowest overall well-being. The most popular solution was presumed to be more work flexibility, but many companies were reluctant to switch to flexible work options.
Then Covid-19 struck the planet, and the global workforce switched to remote work nearly overnight. Two years later, flexible work has largely become the norm. According to a Mercer survey, more than 75% of U.S. employees work remotely, and nearly half of companies are offering more flexible shifts. Employers expect to offer a hybrid model in the future, with 25% or more of employees working remotely long term.
So it’s no longer about what millennials want. Flexibility at work is here to stay. But what can we expect in 2023 and beyond?
What flexibility at work looks like
Work flexibility falls into three basic categories: Employees might be in charge of where, when and how they work.
- Where they work. In the early days of the pandemic, just about anyone who could work from home did. Now, as restrictions ease and companies shift to more sustainable long-term models, many employees can work from almost anywhere. Coworking spaces, coffee shops and hotel rooms are just some options. Some employers plan to require workers to be on-premises part of the time, such as three days a week or during peak seasons. But the rest of the time, workers might not even be in the same time zone as the office.
- When they work. Flextime might be offered independently of flex location, allowing site-based workers to decide when to come in. But it’s also a key component of remote work. When people work remotely, they can also be more present for their loved ones or personal tasks, allowing better work-life balance. They might want to shift their work times to help kids with homework or take aging parents to doctor appointments. Flextime also lets employees show up for themselves. They can work during their most productive hours and take time out for self-care as needed.
- How they work. Employees today are working smarter, not harder. According to a 2021 PwC survey, 71% of U.S. employees say that the remote shift has been a success. They’re largely embracing electronic tools that make remote and hybrid work possible, from video-conferencing software to document sharing to collaborative platforms such as Slack. They’re juggling multiple responsibilities and making it happen. In turn, they want employers to provide support, not micromanagement. And they want to be trusted to make intelligent decisions about how they do their jobs.
In a successful flexible workplace, employees feel engaged no matter where they are. They feel trusted and valued. Outcomes are measured by results, not the number of hours spent at a desk, and employers have confidence in their workers.
Where is flexibility headed in the future?
In the same study by Mercer, we see that employers are taking (or intend to take soon) numerous concrete steps to embrace workplace flexibility through 2022 and beyond. While every workplace is different, common plans include:
- Remote culture: Developing strategies to improve work culture for flexible and remote teams
- Employee feedback: Actively soliciting feedback from workers to better understand their current level of engagement, preferences and overall feelings about the company
- Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): Working to better align with the organization’s DEI goals
- Upskilling: Training both managers and employees in new skills and focus areas
- Equipping employees: Providing both the tools and training for people to work remotely more effectively
- Onboarding: Reworking new-employee onboarding methods to better support remote new hires
- Reconfiguring: Changing office layouts to enhance flexibility
- Technology: Investing in new technology solutions to better assist remote and hybrid teams
In addition, employers are embracing many different flexible work options, including:
- Partially or fully remote work
- Flextime (employee-driven start and stop times)
- Compressed or fluctuating work weeks
- Freelance options
What must businesses do to get there successfully?
Because every business is different, the first step is to look at your operational needs and flexible options. Then you can determine if there are additional ways to build flexibility into your workplace. From there, follow a four-step process.
1. Shape strategies based on the work
Within your organization, every department has different needs. For example, product design might be largely solo, lending itself to remote work. But designers need to collaborate regularly to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So you might want to allow virtual and flextime work with caveats, such as requiring twice-weekly meetings at a designated time. Meet with managers from each department to develop policies that truly make sense before issuing blanket companywide statements.
2. Consider both business needs and worker preferences
Workplace flexibility is a juggling act. You’ll need to consider both the preferences of your workers and the practicalities of various flexible options. Each employee is an individual, and what works for one might be entirely wrong for another. You can maximize success by putting boundaries around each option and letting workers decide what they want within the given parameters.
3. Reimagine the office
If you plan to invite or require workers to return to the office some of the time, make it a welcoming space. It would be highly frustrating for employees to come back to work, only to find themselves spending the day in a cubicle on video conferences. Look for ways to encourage in-person collaboration while allowing for social distancing, and consider offering free snacks or activities that enhance the office experience.
4. Revisit your people policies
From onboarding to performance evaluations to diversity and inclusion programs, people management is different in a flexible office. Sit down with HR to find ways to make these programs run more smoothly for a workforce that may be far-flung from one another and the office. Consider implementing a variety of electronic communication tools, including both synchronous (real time) and asynchronous methods.
For example, you might interview applicants by video conference and then send hiring documents by email. Creative solutions can help your entire workforce feel more engaged, no matter where they are or how often they visit the office.
Making flexible workplaces work for everyone
Flexibility at work can have enormous benefits for both employers and workers, forging an engaged and loyal team that’s highly productive. But every workplace is different, and every employee is unique. The fundamental key to success is the willingness to design creative policies that truly serve both the business and its workers. With so many moving parts, consider using a customizable collaboration platform such as Slack to help keep everything and everyone organized and together.
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