If we’ve learned anything living through a pandemic it’s how important adaptability and flexibility are, but being flexible is always easier said than done. Hey, humans are creatures of habit.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the pandemic taught us many lessons the hard way. We’ve learned just how important it is to check your username and background screen before joining that zoom call, that a career as a hairdresser or barber isn’t for us, and that teachers and daycare workers need standing ovations every.single.day.
Somewhat ironically, even though we are doing more with less emotional bandwidth, many professionals have found a level of freedom and flexibility to realize a healthier work-life balance. For those professionals, that newfound flexibility is something they have grown to enjoy, and the prospect of “returning to normal” doesn’t appeal to them.
As the pandemic winds down (fingers crossed), and businesses are looking to bring employees back into the office, many are left wondering what happens to that flexibility and work-life balance they’ve grown accustomed to.
Flexiblity is, well, Flexible
For employers, meeting employee needs for flexibility provides unique challenges. For starters, the flexibility requested by employees does not look the same across the board. While to Jane, flexibility might mean being able to come in an hour late on Wednesdays to take the kids to school, to Tim, it might mean the option to work in-office several days a week when he wants.
For team leaders navigating (and unilaterally executing) this nebulous cloud of flexibility is tough. Beyond this, determining the type of flexibility your team is willing to grant must always be weighed against what is essential for corporate success.
Brick and Mortar = A Rock and A Hard Place
Not all roles can be performed outside the office and certain roles require specific hours to be worked. For roles that fall into this category, questions of employee retention and candidate engagement are top of mind. If employees want flexibility, how can this be supplied when there are time and/or location constraints fundamental to the role’s duties?
While it may seem like you’re stuck in a lose-lose situation, not all hope is lost. Instead of asking, “How am I going to fill this position that doesn’t allow for job seeker flexibility?”, ask yourself, “Why does this role need to be structured the way it currently is?”
The Hybrid Hype
In an effort to find common ground, many businesses have adopted a hybrid model of work. But even this model has some ambiguity on how to best execute. A hybrid work model can mean staggering your workforce so that different teams work in-office on different days; it can mean bringing the entire workforce in periodically to have in-office meeting days; it can also mean only certain positions/departments must return to office as a necessity of their job’s function. No model is better than another and each business must decide which hybrid model works best for their team’s communication, cohesion, operations, and employee flexibility requests.
Flexiblity…On my Terms
When making the decision to provide flexibility to your team, it’s important to understand their definition of flexibility might not align with the flexibility your organization can provide. Where an employer might define flexibility as working remotely with geographic restrictions and set hours, your employees might think of flexibility as being able to work wherever and whenever so long as production goals are met. This kind of discrepancy can cause a considerable amount of frustration, which, in turn, may lead to loss of employee engagement, decreased performance, and, ultimately, increased attrition.
What Your Business Needs Vs What You Want
As employers, we have an obligation to be transparent with our team and honest with ourselves about the scope of our positions. For a customer support role that has responsibilities that require face-to-face interaction with your customer base, this position will not be able to pivot to remote work, as it does not suit your business’ needs. Alternatively, if you have a position that simply requires paperwork or other written projects to be completed by a certain deadline, this role may lend itself to a more flexible working format.
As leaders, we need to acknowledge that how we once conducted business –and considered a necessity– may not be the reality of the working world today. Not only have job seeker values changed, but their personal lives have also changed. If your goal is to hire the right talent and retain these professionals, it’s crucial to understand and build effective recruitment and retention strategies around this.
Making The Right Decision For Your Business
However you choose to implement flexibility at your business, be sure to communicate why you’ve made this decision to your current and prospective employees. If you are opting to adopt a hybrid work model, define what that looks like. If your business needs only certain departments or workers with essential in-person functions to be in the office, set the expectation and provide a timeline for implementation.
At the end of the day, it is your prerogative to structure your business and internal roles however you see fit but understand there may be consequences for any rigidity that job seekers perceive to be unnecessary –especially when other companies are willing to accommodate job seekers’ requests for flexibility in the areas your team is not.
You must weigh the pros and cons of what makes sense for your business in both the short term and the long term. By rethinking your work structure in the context of what will continue to drive performance, service levels and improve employee engagement and retention, you can feel confident that the work structure you’re building will provide your team flexibility in a way that is beneficial to your overall business success.