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Business leadership In The Age Of Flexibility: Embracing A New Culture

The impact of new demands for flexible work.

Over the course of the year, HR teams attend different events like the Diversity & Inclusion Conference in central London, and “Flexible Working” is always on the agenda.

Stories of successful work policies fill the auditoriums. At one of the events, one woman, let’s call her Sarah, was invited to the stage to discuss her company’s progress in adapting to flexible work.

“We do not want our employees to feel as if they are forced to sit at their laptops and drag the cursor up down and the screen, we’ve all been there!” The crowd cheered her opening joke. Everyone leaned in a little closer to hear what she was to say next.

“To achieve the highest level of staff morale and output, we had to learn to listen to their needs and address flexible working as a unique way to make every employee belong.

We’ve put in place paternity leave now for new fathers, who genuinely want to spend time with their kids, and mentoring schemes to tailor support for all employees to foster an environment of growth.

We also encourage employees to enhance their remote work environments, and we help them access the digital tools they need to stay connected to the team.”

After a pause, she concluded: “We want our employees to feel valued, we will not spy on them or over-monitor them, we trust them. Flexible working is essential to cultivating an inclusive workplace, and that is key to the future of the company.”

As she lowered her microphone, the crowd exploded into applause. Chatter all around the room revealed the many ways in which people were adapting to flexible work.

One woman, let’s call her Monique in her mid-30s, was telling a group at her table that she did not work on Friday afternoons so that she could pick up her kids from school. Instead, she worked on Saturday mornings to finish off the week’s work.

A man across from her nodded in approval, in a heartfelt manner he said: “Working from home during the lockdown showed me just how much I was missing out on watching my 2-year-old son grow up, now he’s 5 and starting school — I could never work 5-days in the office ever again!”

These great stories not only reveal the unique experiences behind the push and pull factors of flexible work, but they also show how leadership needs to change to cope with the new demands.

Flexible working is on the wish-list for many employees. The good news is that it is good for business. A recent study conducted in the UK trialed a 4-day work week for 61 companies and 2,900 employees. The results astonishingly showed a 35% increase in revenue for the companies as well as a 73% score of employee satisfaction.

Not only did satisfaction increase, but there was also a lower turnover rate, less absenteeism, less burnout and fatigue, and an increase in hiring.

In exchange for a day spent on oneself or family time rather than work, everyone was fully committed to 100% output and company success. Why wouldn’t you want flexible work?

After the end of the trial, 15% of those employees said that “no amount of money would make them accept a five-day work schedule somewhere else.”

These outcomes in business are rare. Since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic which saw ‘The Great Resignation’ occur as well as ‘silent quitting’ on behalf of employees, flexible work policies have been hotly debated.

Leaders must now energise and inspire their teams across digital spaces and time zones, ensuring maximum effort and commitment.

Today, we are seeing large groups of employees come together to make flexible working normalised, adaptable, and judgement-free. Employees are increasingly no longer afraid to speak out against toxic work cultures that shame flexible work policies. Some of them are acting on their feet by walking out the door.

Exacerbated by the Covid-19 lockdowns, people who were used to the 5-days commute to work experienced what it was like to have more time at home.

Many exercised more with the trend of “home workouts,” took care of their health by sleeping at regular times, had time to book important appointments, or had more time to spend with their families which they were not used to before.


A new age for leadership

A crucial task for any leadership team is to retain talent and ensure a pipeline of future leaders. With many different demands of flexible work due its unique nature, leadership teams must start taking flexible work policies seriously.

If over 50% of jobseekers are searching for flexible working options, why are they not on the job descriptions?

When the company does adopt flexible work policies, it is immensely important to remind employees of this new shift in culture. Flexible work is not only about what’s on paper, it is about the culture in the room.

If an employee is feeling unwell, it should not be expected or shameful that they show up early and leave the latest. The goal of flexible work is to ensure the best productivity, and that motivation will change depending on the individual.

Leaders must indeed evolve with their views of key performance indicators (KPIs) and focus on how an employee benefits a team.

If an employee works better by working two days from home in a row, let them. If they need to come into the office an hour later than others, let them. If they work head-down in the mornings then connect with their colleagues in the afternoon, let them.

The return on flexibility is employee commitment and positive advocacy for the company.

Frustrated by years of poor work-life balance which were exposed by the Covid-19 lockdowns, there is no more place for a “one size fits all” work culture.

The 4-day work week was an ambitious trial to challenge the norms of the industry. Astonishingly, 91% of companies are continuing with it. Taking steps to foster a flexible work environment is not easy. The best way to start is to listen to employee needs and demands.

No one wants to feel isolated from their workplace and teams, but they also want a healthy work-life balance. Leaders must acknowledge this and invest in the change with full commitment.

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