If someone told you there was a way to increase employee retention, happiness, and productivity with just one policy, would you believe them? Well, there is, and it’s quickly becoming the norm.
If you clicked on this headline, then you probably already know. We’re talking about flexible work. A concept that originally started as a way to break the traditional 9-5 schedule has expanded as technology and the global pandemic have rapidly changed how we work.
With thousands of companies becoming more flexible out of necessity and technology making things like asynchronous meetings possible, the term has started to take on new meaning. There are benefits like increased productivity and work-life balance, But there are also downsides like logistically restructuring communication and contracts.
The flexible work models are no longer exclusively about schedules; They’re about every aspect of work. Who, what, where, when, and how we work is changing. That’s an exciting opportunity. Flexible work has a democratizing effect that employees can get behind.
Whether you’re a flexible work skeptic or excited to have more control over your hours, consider this your complete guide to the flexible work model. We’re covering what flexible work has become and why so many still seem resistant to it. Then, we’ll show you the benefits of flexible work and how you can implement it. Let’s start with the basics.
What is a flexible work model?
Technically, the term flexible work only refers to the structure of the hours an employee works. But in recent years, flexibility has taken on new meaning. Let’s go over the different types of flexible work combinations.
A flexible work schedule is an alternative to the 9 to 5, 40-hour work week. In some cases, this means that employees can change their arrival and departure times at their discretion. Other companies simply prescribe a specific number of hours or core schedules for which the employee must be present.
Sometimes, flexible work is confused with hybrid work. Hybrid work is when employees have the option to work remotely part of the time. Hybrid work can mean working from home a specific number of days per week and the office the rest of the time.
Asynchronous flexible work allows employees to work on any schedule that works for them as long as they complete their assigned work or fulfill a certain amount of hours. Asynchronous can mean employees aren’t all online at the same time. Synchronous flexible work allows for varied start and end times but requires employees to be at work, whether from home or in the office, during the same core hours.
What are some examples of flexible work schedules?
Flexible work arrangements could take many different forms. While some companies give parameters, others give their employees the power to choose. There’s potential for a compressed workweek, telecommuting, and workplace flexibility. Here are a few examples of what a flexible work schedule might look like.
June works remotely full-time. She begins work at 8:30 am, takes a one-hour lunch break around 12:30 pm, and logs off around 5:30 pm. She works four days a week.
Alia begins working at 10 am; they take a 30-minute lunch break around 2 pm and finish their day around 7 pm.
Julio starts his work day around 5 am in his home office; he logs off at 8:30 am to bring his daughter to school and then works from 9 am until 3 pm. He leaves at exactly 3 pm to pick up his daughter from school.
Latoya works Monday through Saturday, from 12 pm to 6 pm. This way, she can look after her elderly parents in the mornings.
The entire office must be online between 11 am and 2 pm Eastern, Monday through Thursday. Outside these core hours, employees can round out the rest of their 40-hour requirement at any time.
Sam works from home part-time. He goes into the office two days a week. Their hours are still 9-5, but they have more flexibility with their location.
What are the benefits and challenges of flexible work models?
While there are many desirable benefits of flexible work models, flexible work isn’t a silver bullet. Nothing replaces strong company culture and effective policies. The benefits and challenges of flexible work will affect every company differently.
From varying hours to dispersing teams, flexible work may vary depending on the organization. Some organizations will thrive with flexible options, finding ways to communicate better and collaborate across teams. Others might end up in silos, with proximity bias running rampant.
It’s important to iterate on flexible work strategies not just when they’re implemented but over the long term as well. Technology changes, the company's needs will grow, and managers need to continuously evaluate whether what they’re doing is working. Let’s take a bird’s eye view of each to see how policies like these may affect your team.
The benefits of flexible work models
Flexible work models can be beneficial in a multitude of ways for both employees and companies. Teams that have autonomy are generally happier and more productive. This leads to higher rates of retention.
When employees are offered flexible work hours, they feel empowered, feel more connected to their coworkers, and are more productive. Flexible work hours allow employees to find work/life balance and burn out less often. All of these benefits, while focusing on the employee, are beneficial for companies too.
You see, more productive employees drive teams to meet lofty goals. Employees who feel empowered, respected, and have a sense of belonging are more loyal. Lower turnover rates save companies money on hiring and training.
If you do need to hire, however, offering flexible work options gives you a competitive advantage. More than half of surveyed remote workers reported that having a flexible work arrangement mattered more to them than their salary.
Outside of the workforce, flexible work models can save companies immense amounts of money. From office rent to moving costs for valuable new employees, removing in-person infrastructure from the balance sheet is a no-brainer for many companies. Even if this infrastructure can’t be eliminated completely, it can certainly be downsized significantly.
It may require an upfront investment, but flexible work is inevitable and revolutionary. Companies must take a bird’s eye view and intentionally evaluate how they communicate, work, and collaborate. We see it as an opportunity for innovation.
The challenges of flexible work models
While flexible work has many benefits, there can be a few challenges. The most prominent challenges are logistical. New policies need to be made to accommodate the changes that come with flexible working arrangements.
These might be boundaries, schedule parameters, communication best practices, and technology protocols. More choices between synchronous and asynchronous communication will need to be made. Sometimes siloed working can be more common among flexible workers, which makes a centralized communication system more important than ever.
In some cases, workers have reported challenges with their flexible work arrangements. Flexible workers report fewer challenges than hybrid or remote employees, though. But sometimes noticeable issues like proximity bias and a lack of trust from managers can creep in. Both management and employees must know how to navigate these issues. That’s where human resources should come in.
What organizations does flexible work not apply to?
While at least a fraction of nearly every company has the ability to offer flexible work to their employees, many workers will never be able to do remote work. These essential workers must be in-person in order to execute their job functions.
A portion of the people in these types of organizations may not be able to work from home.
Shipping and logistics drivers
and other essential services that require in-person presence.
Why are traditional employers afraid of flexible work?
Traditional employers often fear flexible work because of biases they’ve been conditioned to believe over their careers. Often, the ones who fear flexible work the most are higher-level management. It’s been proven that younger employees tend to feel the most positively about flexible work.
Most large organizations do not trust their employees to be as productive at home as they do in the office – despite proof that the majority of employees are more productive working from home. The lack of trust here is often attributed to a fear of losing control.
Many people who resist flexible work have fallen behind the times. They may not see flexible work as a legitimate and productive way of working, perhaps because it wasn’t the norm before. Those who resist change tend to believe that things must remain the way they were because, at some point, they learned that was what worked.
In some cases, an executive bias can emerge when it comes to assigning flexible work privileges. For the majority of executives, it’s easy and even enjoyable to go into the office. They have the salary to be able to hire child care and other help, get to work conveniently, and have a nicer work environment.
Many executives actually have more flexibility than their employees, though they may not realize it. They often will not be able to view flexible work the way that their employees do because they aren’t saddled with the disadvantages their employee's experience.
It’s not just about executives versus employees, though. Flexible work has larger business-related implications that don’t involve the diverse challenges employees face. Logistically, flexible work can present some legal and tax challenges.
Depending on where the company and employees are based, some companies may end up spending the money they saved on downsizing office infrastructure on legal and financial advisors to sort out these technicalities. Unlike rent, insurance, and other office-related expenses, these costs typically depreciate over time.
When it comes down to it, most companies resistant to flexible work are afraid of a few main things, a loss of control, change, and empathy. Because of their fears, they often miss how they could slowly transition into flexible work that would benefit their employees.
So how can companies move into the modern work era?
Building a culture based on inclusivity, empathy, and trust is one of the most important aspects of hybrid work. Culture plays a part in every aspect of a business. Building a better culture starts with getting in touch with employees.
Companies can establish a strong company culture that transcends location by mitigating the executive-employee disconnect. Continuously gathering feedback for ongoing improvement makes employees part of the decision-making. Your employees know what they need to succeed, but the thing they need the most is executives who listen.
In order to support the culture you want to see, it’s necessary to build infrastructure and establish company-wide communication best practices. Video is the most effective way to communicate among flexible teams. Good communication among flexible teams starts with investing in technology stacks.
Tech stacks that support the infrastructure and best practices set forth might be asynchronous video communication tools, a central hub like a messenger or intranet, a video conferencing platform, or project management software.
Flexible work isn’t something to fear. It’s the new normal. Flexible work can have positive benefits for both companies and employees. It gives us the opportunity to create a company culture that supports both productivity and happiness.
The best path forward is transitioning to a remote-first culture. Whether your team is dispersed, hybrid, or fully remote, you can implement policies like online meetings even when you meet in person sometimes, a central communication channel, and asynchronous video messages. Policies like these create an equitable and scalable business that will work with the modern world.