Are we really offering flexibility at work?

There are degrees of flexibility. Perhaps some of us aren’t as flexible as we’d like to think we are. But don’t be afraid, this is not a blog about my failed attempts at lockdown yoga.

By: James Blair on

Perhaps predictably, one of my most viewed posts on LinkedIn was my mid-July blog on the challenges, pitfalls & opportunities of work-life post-lockdown. Well, life moves fast in 2020, and we’re now arguably back in lockdown (depending on where you are in the world). For that reason, I wanted to look a little into work-life post-post-lockdown. Are we really offering or receiving workplace flexibility?

In defence of leaders, it can be tough to plan for a future that’s so uncertain and ever-changing. That said, employees were expecting a healthier work/life balance long before the pandemic gate-crashed our lives. Gen’s Y and Z have higher demands for flexibility than their Baby Boomer or Gen’ X parents.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution on offer here (sorry!) as the flexibility requirements and possibilities will be unique to each organisation. However, there are two key areas for leaders to look into:

1. Flexibility in schedule

Of course, many jobs necessitate employees to be physically present at a particular place and time. But there is always an opportunity for employers to look into their policies and requirements to see if they can’t enhance the flexibility on offer. This is actually essential if you want to attract the top talent from the pool. Those Ys and Zs expect it, and the many talented young working parents require it.

2. Flexibility in location

A straw-poll of the professionals in my circle showed pretty conclusively that they want (and some expect) to continue to work from home, or on a significantly more flexible basis, than they did pre-pandemic. Wise leaders will be preparing for these requests now.

In my experience, there has been a historic trust issue in some employers with having their people work from home. The pandemic forced their hands, and many have had these doubts dispelled. Some have even reported increased productivity to accompany the improved wellbeing.

Combine these two for the full package. Yes, it may take a little extra work to cover the logistics of teams with split shifts and variable work locations, but the rewards will justify the effort. Technology can help immensely with making this a success, and the options should be investigated thoroughly. Internal comms and engagement are key in this brave new world. And, at the risk of “going all Mr T” on you (with apologies to my younger readers – you may need to jump onto a search engine for this reference), I pity the fool who allows flexible working to get in the way of employee recognition and appreciation as this is hugely important to those Ys and Zs that you’re trying so hard to tempt and keep.

Switch your CoPs for OoBs

Finally, there are a couple of fairly minor “changes in thinking” that can gently enhance flexibility and make a difference to those requiring more elasticity in their working day. I’m thinking of parents of young children and/or those who, in my opinion, deserve a knighthood for attempting to home-school at the same time as earning a crust.

My favourite one is switching deadlines from ‘Close of Play’ on a due date to ‘Opening of Business’ on the following day. A stressed Mum with an unexpected or emergency daytime child situation may just need (and hugely appreciate) the evening hours to get the work done (with the undivided attention it deserves) and, unless that project really was required for 5pm on that first date, the overseer of that project is no worse off.

Whilst the more traditional performance expectations, targets, KPIs and general needs of the business are as crucial as ever, sticking to the way it’s always been because, well, that’s the way it’s always been could be a fatal mistake.

Things will be different. Things could be even better. Turn problems into opportunities.

Don’t be ordinary in the new normal.