Even before the pandemic forced its acceleration, flexible work was an important part of the discussion, especially for millennials in the workforce. According to several different pre-pandemic Gallup polls, millennials were already well known for having the highest turnover, the least engagement and the lowest overall work-related well-being. Many companies believed that flexible working conditions were the solution, but were reluctant to make the switch.
With the challenges of Covid-19, companies had little choice but to switch to remote operations. Things worked out better than nearly anyone expected, with 83% of employers and 71% of workers reporting a successful transition in a 2021 survey by PwC. According to a Mercer survey, flexibility is here to stay: More than three-quarters of employees are working remotely, and almost half of companies are offering more flexible shifts. Employers report that the future will bring a more hybrid model, with at least 25% of workers staying remote.
Flexibility goes beyond allowing employees to work remotely. It can also include flexible scheduling, asynchronous collaboration and compressed workweeks. Whether you offer one option or several, learning to embrace flexibility can help boost productivity and worker engagement in the long run.
Why embrace flexibility?
We’re still in the Great Resignation, with workers leaving their employers at an unprecedented rate. According to a 2021 survey by Explorance, one of the biggest reasons is that employees don’t feel like their feedback is taken seriously or leads to real change.
Workers have been pushing for flexibility for a long time. Now they’re more committed to achieving it than ever before. In fact, the Mercer survey shows that more than half of employees want to work remotely at least three days a week, while 29% are hoping to work remotely full-time. To attract and retain top talent, you’ll need to find ways to embrace flexibility.
How to embrace flexible work
It’s not enough to simply decide to offer flexible work options. To be successful, you need to proactively create a flexibility plan, effectively communicate it to your entire team and track your results. Here are some tips for successful implementation.
- Gather feedback. Your employees are individuals with unique needs, and every department has its own strengths and challenges. Talk to people at every level, from managers to frontline workers. Find out which flexibility options they want and what issues they see in implementing them within their departments.
- Rethink how you measure success. Flexible work means recalibrating what it means to be successful. Make sure you’re focused on outcomes rather than hours spent.
- Build guardrails. Workplace flexibility requires that you let go of some of the old ways you used to check up on projects. You can’t always walk around to desks and ask employees what they’re working on; you’ll have to trust that they’re being productive and wait for the results. But you can create guardrails to help track progress, such as requiring team reports every Friday.
- Create a support structure. Some people readily adapt to change, while others take a bit longer to settle in. Make sure that every employee knows where to go with questions or concerns. Proactively check in regularly during the early days. If workers need something from you, do your best to make it happen.
- Make the office experience special. If you’re requiring or allowing employees to come in, even occasionally, make it a special experience. Don’t ask workers to come in and sit in a cubicle while conducting virtual meetings. Instead, create space for socially distanced collaboration. Offer free snacks. Spiff up the place with warm paint colors, soft textures and comfortable meeting areas that allow social distance.
- Maximize remote collaboration. Whether your team is fully remote or hybrid, make sure you offer tools for success. Depending on job function, employees might need video-conferencing software, document-sharing tools and other collaboration technology. Consider using a customizable collaboration platform such as Slack to keep everyone communicating and on track.
Putting it all together
Flexible work is here to stay, so smart companies are starting to embrace it. A proactive approach, strong communication and the right tools can go a long way toward helping your flexible team members feel engaged, no matter where or when they do their jobs.
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