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Enabling Employee Flexibility and Maintaining Effectiveness

Adapting to change quickly can make a business more sustainable and allows it to capitalize on trends, current events and customer feedback. Businesses that value employee flexibility provide a supportive environment for their staff. They also expect staff to exhibit that same flexibility to help the company grow and remain competitive.


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Definition of flexibility at work

Work flexibility describes a workplace that willingly adapts to change and trusts employees to get their work done in the most efficient way for them. Both the employees and employer must embrace flexibility, so that both can receive the benefits. That often involves employers giving employees more choice in how, where and when they work. Employees show flexibility in the workplace by taking on new responsibilities or being willing to adapt to a new work situation.


Benefits of employee flexibility

Embracing workplace adaptability and flexibility offers many benefits. Employees who are willing to expand their workload and take on assignments that might involve learning new skills are valuable to their employers. A flexible employee will accept additional responsibilities, use an innovative approach to problem-solving and be more productive than one who works solely within the scope of their job description.


Other benefits of flexibility at work include:


  • Engaged employees who have more autonomy over their work
  • Higher employee retention rates
  • Enhanced work-life balance for employees
  • Reduced overhead if you move to a remote working situation
  • Greater coverage at work when flexible employees are willing to step in where needed
  • New skills learned by staff, making them stronger employees and improving their resumes

Key factors for promoting employee flexibility

Businesses that want to capitalize on flexibility in the workplace can help create an environment in which workplace flexibility will thrive. Here are some key factors for promoting flexibility:


  • Leading by example
  • Offering a variety of options
  • Talking with employees
  • Recruiting for flexibility
  • Changing the thinking around flexibility
  • Allowing for autonomy

Leading by example

Employers can promote flexibility by being flexible themselves. An employer who offers staff the chance to work from home to manage their family commitments may benefit when they need staff to stay late to complete a project. Similarly, in an office where staff members routinely help each other manage their workloads, one individual being off sick isn’t so disruptive as their colleagues will be better prepared to cover their responsibilities. Establish a workplace culture of flexibility to benefit everyone.


Offering a variety of options

There are plenty of ways to promote flexibility. Some flexibility examples include:


  • Sabbaticals for long-serving members of staff
  • Compressed working weeks
  • Unlimited paid vacation time
  • Leave for caregivers
  • Flexible start and finish times
  • Using technology to limit travel for meetings

If employers can provide a range of options that will help employees manage their work and personal lives more effectively, they’re more likely to benefit from flexibility in return.


Talking with employees

One of the best ways to determine if you’re creating a flexible working environment is to talk to your employees. Using a pulse survey related to flexibility gives you a quick, concrete evaluation of how your employees feel about the adaptability of your organization. Talk to your employees to get their suggestions for improving flexibility, or establish an advisory committee that helps you improve how well your company adapts to change.


Recruiting for flexibility

Flexibility can be a distinct benefit when it comes to the recruitment process. Applicants value the ability to manage their own time, so organizations that offer such flexibility increase the number of potential applicants. Robust hiring practices should also help a business recruit staff who will appreciate the benefits of two-way flexibility and work within the flexible system to the benefit of everyone involved.


Changing the thinking around flexibility

Employers and managers should consider flexibility as a strategic business move rather than simply an employee perk. While enabling flexibility can raise concerns about performance, placing the emphasis on results rather than maintaining traditional staffing systems can make it easier to manage the transition to a more flexible working style.


Allowing for autonomy

It’s easy to get stuck in micromanaging your team, but that kills the flexibility and trust you need with your employees. Trust your team to be creative and strategic with their work responsibilities. Give them space to make decisions. If they constantly have to get approval, they can’t be flexible and adapt quickly to whatever gets thrown their way.


How to promote flexibility but still be effective

In a truly flexible workplace, presenteeism is eliminated and managers focus on results, not the number of hours someone is at their desk. People have different working styles, so allowing home-working for someone who needs peace and quiet to prepare a presentation can result in them being more productive as well as encouraging flexibility. There are many ways to ensure that flexibility is working for your business:


  1. Test your system
  2. Use technology to everyone’s advantage
  3. Set clear expectations
  4. Make the most of flexibility

1. Test your system

It’s possible to determine the potential impact of flexible working practices by conducting a trial run. Implement measures on a small scale to gather data, identify potential issues and assess the impact and outcomes before making it more widely available.


2. Use technology to everyone’s advantage

Technology is an important part of increasing job flexibility. Meetings can take place and information can be shared online, and collaborative technology can collate contributions from key individuals regardless of their location. Evaluate your current technology and get feedback from employees on additional options that would make their jobs easier. 


3. Set clear expectations

Employees who understand the parameters of the arrangements can adapt effectively to flexible working. Employee expectations for logging in at certain times or being available by phone during office hours must be clearly communicated. Goals and deadlines will help staff manage their time effectively and enable managers to assess employee productiveness. If employees fail to meet these expectations, address the issue immediately and create a plan to improve.


4. Make the most of flexibility

Employers who allow staff to work remotely and encourage flexible hours may find that they don’t need the office space required for a workforce who’s there full-time. Some implement flexible working arrangements where staff work fewer hours during quiet periods and increase their output at other times, according to the needs of the business, with their wages averaged out across the year. Measures such as this can reduce operating costs and increase productivity.


Employee flexibility FAQs

How can you measure employee flexibility?

Keeping track of the uptake of employee flexibility is one of the most effective ways to measure the level of flexibility in the workplace. Looking at the uptake of flexible working arrangements and comparing that to the performance of the teams or divisions most affected will give an overall picture of the effectiveness of employee flexibility initiatives. Employee feedback can also help you assess the impact of flexible working options. Track the long-term effects of flexibility, measuring all areas that could be affected including recruitment, retention, sick leave and other metrics.


How can employers ensure productivity?

Some employers ask staff to log in between certain hours or otherwise log their time spent working. This can reduce the benefits of flexible working and be counterproductive. By setting goals and deadlines rather than requiring certain hours spent at their desks, employers can pass responsibility for completing projects on to their employees. Evaluating employee efficiency becomes a matter of recording their progress against their goals, reducing the need to keep track of hours worked.


How can employers reduce the stigma of flexibility?

Despite its popularity, there’s still some perceived stigma associated with flexible working. Employees believe that if they make use of the flexible options available, it could damage their chances of promotion or make them appear less committed. Company leaders need to reassure staff and lead by example to truly embrace flexibility.


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