One of the major future of work trends associated in the post-COVID-19 era is flexible work arrangements. While flexible work arrangement has been a hotly debated topic over the past few years, the adoption rate among organisations has accelerated within the last two years. Flexible working is here to stay.
What is flexible working?
As defined by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), flexible work arrangements are “work arrangements where employers and employees agree to a variation from the usual work arrangement”. A similar definition is observed across other geographies, where the Australian government defines flexible work as “an agreement between a workplace and an employee to change the standard working arrangement to better accommodate an employee’s commitments out of work”. To put these simply, flexible work arrangements is about empowering employees with the flexibility to decide a work schedule that is optimal for them.
Upsides & downsides of flexible working
Today’s workplace is centered around flexible working. Statistics from Slack’s Future Forum Pulse Survey revealed that 80% of workers today want flexibility in where they work and 90% want flexibility in when they work. And for a really good reason too. Rigid work schedules have always been identified as one of the major contributors to workplace stress, along with micro-management and the need to be visible in the office even if you have no work to do. Flexible working allows employees to be in charge of their work life – finding places and periods of time where they are the most productive. It also opens doors of opportunities for potential candidates to look for roles that are beyond local borders.
Flexible working no doubt has its downside. For some industries, such as retail and hospitality, where facetime is critical to customer satisfaction levels, flexible working is simply not an option. The same applies in medical fields, where it is simply not possible for a surgeon to be performing a surgery remotely.
For some employees, flexible working may mean an additional schedule that they have to plan in addition to the unstructured workplace at home. For families with young children, home may not be the most conducive place to be conducting a meeting or pitching a million-dollar deal to a client. At the same time, employees may lack the camaraderie and workplace bonds that are typically forged over pantry talks or team lunches.
That being said, flexible working arrangements may not be suitable for all industries or roles. It is best that business leaders weigh the pros and cons before deciding on an appropriate work schedule.
How to introduce flexible work arrangements?
Address the basics
To ensure a successful implementation of flexible work arrangements within the organisation, business leaders need to first ask the basic questions: why implement a flexible work arrangement policy in the first place? What pain points do this policy solve? Answering this question will help business leaders decide on the right form of flexible work arrangement. Business leaders should also decide on the business or operational areas that can be optimised with a flexible work policy. Addressing these questions will enable business leaders to pick an arrangement accordingly.
Decide the scope of flexible work arrangement
Flexible work arrangements typically come in 5 different dimensions. Business leaders can focus on one scope or utilise a combination of scopes to be included in the flexible work policy depending on location or nature of the role. These includes:
Compressed work schedule
Constantly review and modify
Implementing a flexible work policy is not a one-off project. To maximise its effectiveness while optimising the workforce, business leaders should run a pilot for a trial period. Ideally, the trial period should run for at least 1 month or even a quarter of the year. That way, the policy can be assessed and modified accordingly, or even called off depending on the outcomes.
Communicate to employees and provide clear guidelines
Should business leaders decide to implement a flexible work policy once the trial is over, it is imperative to communicate the change to employees. At the same time, provide them with the necessary tools to work flexibly without distractions. For example, introducing collaborative or communication tools such as Slack or MS Teams to keep employees connected. It is also critical to ensure accessibility to company files when employees are working remotely. Consider cloud-sharing platforms or virtual private networks (VPN) to ensure an added layer of security for remote access.