Workplace flexibility accommodates the needs in your personal life

Workplace flexibility: What does it really mean?

There seems to be a mismatch between employees and employers in their understanding of what workplace flexibility is.

Workplace flexibility consistently ranks as a top work perk among employees. But there seems to be a mismatch between employees and employers in their understanding of what workplace flexibility is.

The many different meanings of workplace flexibility

At its core, workplace flexibility refers to a willingness and ability to adapt. In theory, both the needs of the employers and employees are met.

However, you cannot treat workplace flexibility with broad brush strokes. It means something different to each person based on their life commitments or priorities. A working mother will have different needs and requests compared to a single young person. Same still, workplace flexibility offerings are also affected by job function or industry and are not always available to all employees in the same way.

There are some situations where remote work roles may not be suitable for those with customer-facing positions. Like, a receptionist who may need to escort clients to a treatment room.

Firsthand, we’ve also seen some employers who advertise flexible work that isn’t all that flexible:

  • Allowing employees to leave the office early when needed but expecting them to make up for that time lost.
  • Having fixed WFH days that do not account for schedule changes.
  • Clocking time, without focusing on the outcomes and assessing if productivity had declined.

Workplace flexibility includes remote or hybrid work

Mismatching ideas of flexibility

Staff satisfaction and meeting the needs of employees, including flexibility, have become even more important as we near the commencement of Australia’s version of ‘The Great Resignation.’

Without an aligned understanding of workplace flexibility, employers are at risk of losing employees. Either through dissatisfaction, disengagement or to a competitor who can offer workplace flexibility on their terms.

So, how can an employer understand what flexible work practices are important for their staff?

For some, workplace flexibility might mean working for a cafe or co-working space

Workplace flexibility for employers

This year–for the second year in a row–the Australian branch of Cisco was named ‘Best Place to Work in Australia.’ One of their flexible practices includes approaching WFH as an expectation rather than a privilege. They have moved the baseline so an employee isn’t negotiating for flexibility but instead talking to their employer about how they will best be productive.

Cisco considers that workplace flexibility will change employee to employee. They have an outcomes-based and human-centric approach, without set policies like fixed WFH days. Instead, what works for the employee, works for the employer.

Here are a few small ways you can put this outcomes-based approach into practice:

  • Understand the preferences of your employees. Find out what they want from their employer. Ask the question in person and send out surveys to gather information on what’s important to the individual.
  • Rethink your people programs. Performance management and onboarding will need to change to accommodate a flexible workforce. Support managers to develop new virtual norms.
  • Ensure your employees all feel part of the same team. Set regular check-ins so the team have opportunities to talk.
  • Upskill managers. Trust will need to be built and fostered in a new way as remote or hybrid workplaces become the norm. Help equip your managers with the tools to support their teams.
  • Be responsive. Employee preferences may change over time, or productivity may become an issue. Ensure you have a clear line of communication and respond to requests for alternate work arrangements in a timely manner.
  • Consider other perks. If you usually provided a fruit bowl or free lunch, set the money aside for other perks like a coffee voucher for the employee’s local. Just because they may not be in the office, doesn’t mean you can’t bring other work perks to the table

The big takeaway: ask what would make their lives easier. You’ll have happier and more productive employees for it.


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