What does workplace flexibility really mean?
In today’s post-COVID world, employees value a culture of work-life flexibility more than ever. While people often refer to “flexible work arrangements” and “work-life balance” synonymously, they don’t always mean the same thing.
Some managers interpret “work-life balance” as “less work and more play.” Work-life flexibility is not about finding balance. It means creating a culture where employees meet the demands of their personal lives while maintaining high levels of work performance. Flexible work arrangements include options for when, where – and how – the work gets done.
The value of workplace flexibility has increased for employees and job-seekers looking for a work environment that prioritizes it. A flexible mindset is a sought-after quality among employers, too.
When employees adopt a flexible mindset, they tend to experience lower stress levels and better overall well-being. It also enables employees to learn new skills in a changing environment. Here are some ways employees can demonstrate flexibility:
- Arrive to work early or stay later than regular working hours.
- Learn skills to streamline or improve a process.
- Adapt to a changing role that requires additional tasks or responsibilities.
- Set daily tasks aside when needed to address emerging emergencies.
- Cover extra shifts or work when a co-worker is on vacation or calls out sick.
- Train new employees or help co-workers with tasks when needed.
- Offer solutions rather than complaints when problems arise.
- Stay up to date on industry trends.
Managers play a vital role here, as they must adapt their communication and feedback methods to support employees through a host of challenges. Some workplace flexibility best practices to consider include:
- Understanding a team member’s motivation.
- Focusing on accomplishing goals rather than how the goals are achieved.
- Encouraging creativity and the sharing of ideas.
- Being transparent about objectives.
- Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable taking time off for things that matter to them.
- Providing gratitude or rewards to employees who need motivation or crave recognition.
Some companies fail to adopt a work-life flexibility mindset because they haven’t become comfortable trusting employees to perform and do their jobs.
The focus of true work-life flexibility is productivity rather than where and when work gets done. There are several ways you can help employees to achieve workplace flexibility while striving to achieve company goals, including:
- Flextime: Allowing employees to work on a schedule that best suits their needs.
- Part-time employment: Giving employees the option to go part-time in a good way (e.g., not as a punishment).
- Condensed schedules: Changing the expected work schedule in a way that gives the employee more focused personal time (e.g., a four-day workweek).
- Remote work: Creating a work environment where working from home is accepted and encouraged.
- Freelancing: Allowing employees to work on a contract/project basis of their choosing.
- Unlimited PTO: Encouraging employees to take the personal time they need without counting days.
- Alternative scheduling: Setting non-traditional work hours (e.g., not 8 to 5) such as starting earlier or later in the day to avoid the commute or meet school schedule demands.
- Telecommuting: Can occur regularly or meet specific needs when weather, commitments, or other unforeseen circumstances arise.
- Job sharing: In this flexible approach, two employees share a job that would usually be considered a full-time position for one employee, thus creating two part-time positions.
- Permanent part-time arrangements: A part-time position where an employee doesn’t work a whole week but may work two or three full days per week.
When done right, flexibility and adaptability in the workplace produce positive outcomes for the employees and employer.
Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is The Washington Post’s survey partner for Top Workplaces.