This month we celebrated the internationally recognised Flexible Working Day (#FWDay2019) which aims to highlight the benefits of working flexibly (outside of the traditional 9-5 at an office desk) for both people and their organisations.
For me, flexibility in the workplace just makes sense. As a long-time employee, and now business owner, I feel passionately about the benefits of creating space for people to structure their working lives in ways that enable them to perform at their best. Read Femeconomy’s blog on what others do.
We often associate flexibility with providing opportunities for women to return to the workforce after having children but that is only one example of how to retain talent that might otherwise be lost. Flexibility in the workplace comes in many shapes and sizes and gives people, regardless of their circumstances, the opportunity to lead more balanced lives; for as the argument goes, when employees are supported to be their best, you get their best. One of the benefits flexibility gave me, was the opportunity to nurture a rescue dog.
However, flexibility is much more than where and when we work. Importantly, it opens us up to different ways of thinking. In my experience, where workplaces have broken the traditional model they are more likely to be open to new ideas, find innovative ways to solve problems, use technology, develop products, collaborate and engage their stakeholders.
One scenario I often see, is where an organisation’s stakeholders such as members, staff, community, volunteers and visitors are dissatisfied with the service provided, the quality and responsiveness of communications, the length of time to get things done or changed, and the bureaucracy of dealing with that organisation.
When I get to look under the hood of the organisation, I see inflexible structures and processes built up over time that prohibit the team responding to their stakeholder’s needs. Some examples include a ‘no work at home’ policy, no remote access to emails or files, having to have board meetings face-to-face and in the same location, meetings occurring at the same time regardless of what is going on, and even how reports are done and when they are due.
This disconnect lies in the lack of flexibility of an organisation to bend and adapt quickly enough to appease the changing appetite of their stakeholders.
The wheels of change turn slowly in many government agencies, some cultural institutions, resource poor not for profits and large organisations, however there are some small steps we can all take to affect inflexible structures that are no longer serving us.
How do we meet? How can you make your meetings shorter, more productive and positive? Some organisations have stand-up WIPs, walk and talks, 20-minute time limits and uniform agendas which stipulate the meeting’s purpose and outcomes. Can you have your meetings somewhere different? Rotate the chair or note-taker, format and times? Shaking up meetings (where we spend a lot of time) dramatically impacts thinking by getting people out of their comfort zones. I particularly like the “Women who Walk” concept.
Do we want to improve? Does your workplace champion flexible and new thinking, or celebrate the status quo? When was the last time your team was asked how they think things could be done differently? Have you undertaken a stakeholder consultation to understand their changed expectations?
Are we using our tech well? Our tools of the trade are changing all the time. For example, we all use Word, but do we actually use it effectively? When was the last time you had an IT audit to identify latent systems that prohibit flexible working or dissuade collaboration? Just reviewing existing tech or adding in something new, can dramatically change how we work together.
Do we have to see each other all the time? Does your work culture propagate the notion that people have to be seen to be working? Does your organisation understand a flexible workplace’s impact on talent acquisition, productivity, opportunities and staff retention? The research is compelling and flexibility is fast becoming more important for job seekers and employer satisfaction than higher pay or other workplace perks (2018 Global Talent Trends study by Mercer).
Changing structures in organisations doesn’t happen overnight, but there is important work to be done in laying the path towards flexibility so that everyone can win. And, I believe we all have a role to play.
Flexible workplaces and all that they entail are a cornerstone concept that can pave the way for not only agile, responsive and competitive organisations, but spaces that encourage more people to live more fulfilled lives. And that is something worth celebrating.
Is your workplace flexible? What are you doing to inspire change? I’m fascinated by this topic, so please share your experiences with me at firstname.lastname@example.org