Flexibility Looks Different Than It Did in the ‘80s

Workplace flexibility and options that could work for you

Flexible work options are a big deal – a really big deal – in attracting and retaining your employees. What flexibility looks like to your company may be very different from a company in a different industry or different size.  If you think there’s no way to offer flexible options, we encourage you to keep reading.

Flexibility doesn’t mean you must allow your employee to work fully remote.  In fact, there is research to say that we need in-person interaction to perform at our best (more on that later). However, you should take a close look at workable solutions that could radically improve your company.

It is important to realize that the standard work life of the ‘80s and ‘90s will not attract the talent you need for today.  The information we share below is intended to help you discover some feasible options that keep you competitive.

71% of professionals said they would change jobs if they were offered flexible scheduling in a new role.  The Execu|Search Group

The Pandemic’s Impact on Employee Expectations

The pandemic forced us into uncharted waters of a largely remote workforce. The traditional workday was reshaped and reexamined for companies in all industries.  Some of the changes were for the good, some were not so good, and some are still in question.  According to Qualtrics, a software company focused on experience management, 93% of employees feel the way they work has “fundamentally and forever” changed since the pandemic, with the most favorable changes being flexible schedules.

Now that we’ve proven that much of our work can effectively be done away from the office, people want to know they aren’t expected to clock-in and clock-out in the same fashion as their parents did.  People aren’t typically looking to get out of doing work, they simply want the ability to manage their health, family, and nonwork commitments without feeling like demerits are piling up on an invisible – but very real – report card somewhere.

For the purpose of this article, we will focus on industries where work can be performed from home. The issue on the table is striking the balance of in-person vs. remote work.  There are also some very inventive ways for manufacturers to provide schedule flexibility and we’ve added links to some helpful resources at the end of this article.

There are great benefits to working remotely and great benefits to working in-person.  It’s a fact that there are pros and cons to both options.  We want to share some recent research about both options and then share what we have seen as some helpful guidelines for making flexible schedules work for employees and employers.

The key is finding the balance that allows for autonomy and great outcomes for the people and the business.

The Benefits Employees Gain from Working Remotely

People love the freedom that comes with working remotely.  As with any freedom, it can be abused, but when managed correctly, the outcomes can be amazing for both the employee and the employer.

“Remote work also allows for personal breaks that ultimately make us more productive.”  Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, writes about the importance of working like a sprinter. He says it is important to work distraction-free for a period of time, but equally critical to take regular renewal breaks to recover from that time of dedicated work.

You can take breaks when you are working in the office to walk around and chat with a coworker, but when you are home your breaks can give you a greater sense of accomplishment. At home your break may involve walking the dog, starting a load of laundry, prepping for supper, cleaning the bathroom or any number of things that will give you a mental break and also alleviate the responsibilities waiting for you at the end of the workday.  When managed appropriately, these 5 – 10-minute breaks provide you with a greater sense of accomplishment and energize you for your next task.

In another article, Dr. Travis Bradberry agrees with this idea of taking regular breaks. “Getting away from your computer, your phone, and your to-do list is essential to boosting your productivity. Breaks such as walking, reading, and chatting are the most effective forms of recharging because they take you away from your work.” Why the 8-Hr Workday Doesn’t Work

Another obvious benefit of remote work is the lack of commute.  Although commutes can be a good time to mentally transition from work to family life, they also consume time and gas money.  All those minutes and dollars add up.

The Disadvantages to Working Remotely

While the benefits of remote work are clear, there is also a negative side. Even when a role can technically be done away from the office environment, some employees and employers are experiencing negative effects – developmentally, socially and emotionally.

  1. Developmentally, people aren’t receiving the unstructured learning that would naturally occur by virtue of sharing a common space.
  2. Socially, relationships aren’t being formed and nurtured to the level they are when they are in-person.
  3. Emotionally, people are losing a sense of belonging and connection.

From a professional development standpoint, people benefit from the support and knowledge of their counterparts.  When colleagues aren’t in the office to overhear an effective customer service call, or to see someone handle a situation in a healthy way or get an encouraging word, they are missing out on the fine brush strokes that make a good worker even better.

Erik Kostelnik, CEO of the marketing-technology company Postal.io explains his experience this way, “When everyone was working remotely earlier in the pandemic, “A players” were self-sufficient and thriving but his B and C players weren’t benefiting from the knowledge and experience of their colleagues.”

On the social front, Nicola Hemmings, workplace scientist at a mental healthcare provider, shares her thoughts on the downfall of remote work in this article from BBC.  She states, “When working remotely, we miss out on the social cues of a busy office and much needed social-interactions – catching up in the corridor or making a drink in the kitchen while checking in and asking about the weekend,” she says. “These seemingly small moments can collectively have a large impact on our wellbeing.”

And hitting on both the social and emotional negativities, this article from Entrepreneur, cites 4 reasons remote work is hijacking our “best chance at satisfaction at work (and in life).” These reasons include:

  1. We are communicating more but connecting less
  2. We lack a sense of belonging
  3. We miss out on relationships and become lonely
  4. Our mental health takes a hit because of lack of interaction

What Does Healthy Flexibility Look Like?

After reading the pros and cons of remote work we hope you have a balanced view of why people may strongly feel one way or another.  There are good arguments for both.  What employers need to determine is how to provide the flexibility that leads to happy employees while achieving the goals and objectives of the business.

In our experience from our hundreds of conversations with executive-level candidates, it comes down to this: people want to know they’ll be treated with respect.  When high-performing leaders look for a new job, they want to know they’ll be trusted to get their job done without being micromanaged.  That may look very different than sitting at an office desk for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Finding flexible solutions that work for the business and employees is a wise endeavor.  Here are a few tips to guide your decision-making process:

  • Know when in-person meetings are most fruitful
  • Establish set in-person hours and/or days
  • Check in on your people to see if they are flourishing with schedule flexibility
  • Take a page from other companies

Some meetings are generally more fruitful when held in-person. This article from Harvard Business Review provides helpful ways to evaluate whether a meeting should be in-person or virtual. Tips such as assessing if a meeting has relationship-based goal or task-based goals, will help employers and employees understand the value of meeting in-person when it makes sense.

Rae Ringel, president of the Ringel Group summarizes it well by saying, “Once we determine which parts of our work should be done in person, which should be virtual, and which can benefit from a mix, we can design toward that ideal.”

Having designated days for in-person work is another helpful way to provide flexibility while allowing for in-person collaboration.  “If you don’t have a standardized time of when you’re in the office and when you have core working hours, it becomes too loose,” says Mr. Kostelnik CEO of the marketing-technology company Postal.io. “It’s not about productivity; it’s not about the output or making sure you’re getting what you pay for,” he said. “The office is a resource.”

Regular check-ins are also critical for ensuring that your people are using their freedom wisely. Mike Sipple, Jr. CEO of Centennial and Talent Magnet Institute has been a big advocate of flexible scheduling for years.  He’ll tell you that, “People want empowerment and autonomy.  When managers can give their employees both, and employees can be responsible with them, it’s a powerful thing.  However, you need to check in on your employees regularly.  Some people need the office setting to work at their best.”

And lastly, observe what other companies are doing and see what is working for them.  What they are experiencing with in-person vs. remote work may give you great ideas to implement.

It’s interesting that Marriott hasn’t mandated specific days for a return, and yet CEO, Anthony Capuano, says he would not be surprised if office attendance is to grow over time—particularly as workers start to feel left out. This Wall Street Journal article goes on to say, “Already, he has noticed a shift during daylong hybrid meetings. When the in-person group breaks for lunch and rejoins the meeting in the afternoon, laughing together as the meeting resumes, those at home seem to look on with what Mr. Capuano described as the same expression of children peering into a store window in a Norman Rockwell painting. “You can tell they miss some of that unofficial interaction,” he said.”

Flexibility When Remote Work Isn’t an Option

There are some jobs that cannot be done remote but that doesn’t mean flexibility is not an option.  Organizations have developed creative ways to allow their employees some control over their schedule, and therefore providing them with the extra freedom that they desire.

Here are three articles with excellent solutions to flexible scheduling in the manufacturing industry.

SHRM: Manufacturing Guide

The Fabricator: The Power and Necessity of Flexible Schedules in Manufacture

The Manufacturers Alliance: Future Flexible Work

Provide Flexible Schedules to Attract Employees

As a team of executive recruiters, we find most executive-level job seekers will only consider a job that offers the freedom to work from home at least a couple days a week.  To be sure your organization isn’t missing out on a top leader, find some ways to allow for schedule flexibility. It’s important to be sure your organization isn’t saying no to remote work because of old thinking.  Giving employees flexibility will go a long way in attracting and keeping the employees you need.

Do you have questions or comments?  We’d love to hear them.  Drop us a note.

 

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