What is flexible working, and how can your workplace harness it?

What’s the difference between hybrid working and flexible working? Learn how to harness flexibility in your office to create more productive workdays.

As COVID-19 shifted our working patterns, the importance of flexible working has only grown. For instance, nine out of ten workers describe a desire to work "flexibly," which makes sense when considering that this style of work results in 86% of people feeling less stressed. Amid the Great Resignation, people are reluctant to apply for positions that don't offer flexibility, and organizations need to be aware of the effects it can have on employee performance. 

And yet, despite its importance, there is general uncertainty around what flexible work actually looks like. The terms "hybrid work" and "flexible work" are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between the two. Understanding these differences will allow companies to create bulletproof workplace strategies while meeting employee needs. 

Since a flexible working environment can boost productivity by up to 78%, it’s vital to understand how flexibility can be effectively implemented. By looking back at the history of flexible working, we can understand and predict what role it will play in the future of work.

What is flexible working? How is it different from hybrid working?

Flexible working is a model that allows employees to work outside of a traditional nine-to-five schedule. In contrast, hybrid working is a model that employees work partly from the office and partly from a remote location. In other words, flexible working dictates the "when" of work, and hybrid working dictates the "where."

With flexible working, employees have the autonomy to work the hours that suit them best. But with hybrid working, workers are expected to divide their time between working at the office and working elsewhere, regardless of their hours. 

The history of flexible working pre-pandemic

The concept of flexible working dates back to 1965 in West Germany, where the concept of "flex time" (in which employees chose their own start and end times) was established. Flexible working proved a solution to the labor shortages at the time by allowing women to balance child care and professional responsibilities in their own time.

At the dawn of the millennium, more organizations began introducing flexible work. In 1998, roughly 1.6 million people in the UK worked flexible hours; by 2008, this number had nearly doubled. In the mid-2010s, laws were created in Europe that granted individuals the right to request their own hours and access work-from-home opportunities. However, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the growth of flexible working worldwide. 

The history of flexible working post-pandemic

At the beginning of the pandemic, schools closed, health issues grew, and time with family became vital; this meant that strict working hours were no longer feasible. More and more people were either working hybrid or fully remote, but they were also working flexibly. Many found that they benefitted from following their own schedules, with notable increases in motivation and well-being. For instance, over 80% of people reported higher productivity levels when working flexibly. 

Consequently, more and more people began leaving their roles in search of companies that would support their personal needs. Known as the Great Resignation, many left their jobs primarily due to enforced hours and a lack of hybrid opportunities. A study of this phenomenon found that today's modern workforce expects flexibility first and foremost, and companies can't afford to ignore this if they want to attract and retain talented people. 

Creating a flexible workplace

It's surprising that only one in four job listings currently lists flexible work as a benefit when doing so is a proven way to stand out to prospective employees. However, there is no use in companies making these claims if they can't be backed up through actions. While flexible working isn't tied to physical, space-related changes, there are a few methods that can be implemented within your organization to enable productive flexible working. 

Optimizing every workday

Flexible working is all about using time optimally rather than spending a set number of hours in one location. Today, only six percent of people in the UK currently work a nine-to-five schedule. Instead, this has been replaced by a modern flexible working model: the flexible workday. 

A flexible workday is a way of organizing your workload without focusing on the hours spent sitting at a desk. By not limiting work to a specific range of time, employees can find the ways they work best, while organizations can create spaces that respond to this autonomy. 

Organizations can create more flexible workdays by installing a variety of different areas in the office. This will help teams and individuals to find spaces that match their unique schedules and allow them to work more effectively. Etsy is a great example of this, having gone above and beyond to meet employee needs. After speaking to their employees about what they wanted from their workday, Etsy implemented showers for commuters, a yoga studio, a quiet room, and work-stands for quick meetings. By similarly understanding employee desires and creating spaces that reflect employees’ real flexible working tendencies, companies can optimize their office spaces. 

Balancing autonomy and productivity

To fully embrace flexible working, organizations must empower their employees to be autonomous rather than trying to drive productivity through hands-on oversight. Concentrating solely on productivity is not in the spirit of flexible working: instead, companies should prioritize autonomy, employee satisfaction, and well-being. This will benefit both the wellness of your employees and your bottom line, with studies showing that teams who work freely exhibit increased levels of connection and greater work output. 

For instance, the flexible policies adopted by organizations such as Netflix exemplify how companies can find value in autonomy. Rather than focusing on productivity in terms of time spent at work, Netflix has explored the importance of independence and work-life balance. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted that some of the company's greatest innovations resulted from his employees taking time off, stating that it "Provides the mental bandwidth that allows you to think creatively and see your work in a different light."

Companies looking to implement autonomous, flexible working should allow teams and individuals to carve their own paths. When managers do check in, they should avoid pressuring workers to comply with arbitrary time-quotas and instead ensure that conversations are driven by understanding, encouragement, and respect. 

Using digital tools

Technology plays a key role in facilitating flexible working while boosting autonomy and performance. It can allow managers and team leaders to understand employees' working preferences while helping colleagues to stay connected when working remotely. 

Today, technology has evolved to such a point wherein many of the tasks that get in the way of a productive workday can be automized through smart suggestions and tech integrations. This removes the hassle associated with having to manually book rooms and schedule meetings. Allowing technology to automate day-to-day admin tasks empowers both employees and managers alike. In this way, all members of an organization are working towards the same goal, but in their own unique way––resulting in increased output and a more seamless workday.

With this in mind, Mapiq provides a host of solutions that makes flexible working easier for companies and workers alike. With a range of tools like smart meeting reservations and shared calendars, workloads are reduced and employees gain greater control over their own time. By applying data-driven suggestions to every aspect of office life, employees and employers are empowered to create smart, flexible workdays where individuals can be truly autonomous. 

Get in touch to learn more about how Mapiq can improve your organization's flexible working strategies.

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