While remote work was born out of necessity during the pandemic, it was a real step-change towards facilitating the future of the workplace with hybrid working now becoming the norm.
Great strides have been made in implementing the technologies needed to make it possible for teams to work together from anywhere in the world, on a raft of devices. Equally, many of us now think nothing of seeing a gym, coffee shop or spare bedroom in the background of a work call.
Yet, while hybrid working has become the norm in many industries, we still have long strides to go to making truly flexible working a reality.
Time to take a real leap
While technology has enabled a lot – business culture, policies and processes have not caught up with the needs of today’s workforce, where it’s very common for people to live further away from the office, where having two working parents is the norm and where younger talent are seeking increased flexibility in their working patterns. Today’s workforce are more open to the belief that success today is less aligned to sitting at a desk and keeping regular hours and geared more towards honing skills and boosting outcomes.
We first need to recognise that flexible working, and hybrid working are not the same thing. While hybrid working is widely acknowledged as being a model that allows employees to work from multiple, or even any location, flexible working means so much more. It could refer to job sharing, the number of hours a person works, the freedom they have over when those hours are worked, or it could apply to benefits that support those with caring responsibilities or even simply facilitating employees more freedom to take part in their interests outside of work. The 4-day week trial is one great example of employee-centred flexible working and has seen many companies decide to make the switch permanently.
Considering the practicalities of flexible working are not enough though. The culture of an organisation must reflect flexible working through the ways it manages teams, deadlines, and the interactions of staff.
And it’s important to note that what works for one company in terms of flexible policies won’t necessarily work for another. There could be vast differences between sectors in terms of what is possible to ensure the operations, culture and regulatory environment of a business is not adversely affected by flexible working.
The flexible working flip-flop
For some large companies, the discomfort of moving to hybrid and remote working has led to them enforcing a complete return to the office, because they believe control, authority and productivity remain hooked on presenteeism. Admittedly there will be some roles where being in the office is necessary, such as trading, but we also can’t overestimate the importance of face time in fostering a great cultural experience.
Some of the arguments are valid, such as concerns about loss of culture, or how quickly some situations could be resolved if people were sitting next to each other, rather than communicating over messaging apps. But we’ve all experienced the opposite too – where dispersed international colleagues can feel closer than ever. Context matters, as does using the right tool for the job, and that’s why policies and culture need to catch up with technology.
Companies that enforce a blanket return to the office must also accept that this may not yield the results they want in the long run. Often it will mean that talented employees will leave, and when looking for new talent, they may also be seeking flexible working policies.
Making transformation a success
Both the leadership team and the HR team are pivotal in developing a flexible working strategy that current and future employees, as well as customers, can embrace.
Here are a few steps to consider to make flexible working a success for both businesses and employees:
- Listen – Just as flexibility can mean different things across the corporate world, it will mean different things to your employees. Listen to what your teams really care about when it comes to flexibility and consider whether the business can support those desires. At Malt UK, we understood that our team wanted more flexibility around the start and end of their days, to allow for caring responsibilities, gym classes, commuting and so on, so we’ve introduced core hours between 10am-4pm which enables flexibility around this.
- Mandatory matters – Be clear on what needs to be mandated and why. For example, certain days in the office, or types of meetings that need to be attended in person. We’ve recently hosted ‘Product Olympics’ at Malt where every employee attended workshops to gain a base level understanding of our products, and mandated that no matter what role someone has, everyone needed to attend the workshops in person to get the most out of them, particularly as they were so interactive.
- Job sharing – Consider which roles could be job-shared in the organisation, as this can create great opportunities for the workforce, not only in terms of flexibility, but also the variety of work they do. Guidelines and processes are necessary for job sharing so that it works effectively and nothing falls through the gaps.
- Tone from the top – The leaders of an organisation must endorse these policies, and live them, so they are successfully implemented for cultural change to succeed.
- Be transparent with your clients – If you’re a client-facing business and want to implement flexible working policies, be it a shorter week or core hours, it’s important to let your clients know. Every business is changing and offering their own ways of flexibility, so as long as you’ve set expectations with your clients, and are still providing the same level of service, it should work smoothly.
Approaching a flexible working strategy requires an open mind and a true belief that it can do something great for your organisation, productivity and employee wellbeing. If you come at it with the aim of simply ticking a box, then you’ll be missing an opportunity that could impact the future growth of your company.