When employers define flexibility, it’s not actually flexible

One size fits none printed on a clothing tag
“Flexible work” is certainly one of the more popular employee benefits we’ve seen arise over the past few years – with many job seekers actively looking for roles that promise it, and many employers keen to include it in their job descriptions.
But what is “flexible work”, and what does it take to create a truly flexible workplace?

At HorizonOne, creating a genuinely flexible workplace is a journey we’ve been on for several years. Initially it was difficult to offer flexible arrangements because we needed a strong office presence to create a great vibe and supportive working environment. Once we grew and had a really strong culture, we found it easier to have people working from home and since then have proactively focused on integrating flexible working.

What we’ve learned along the way is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to flexibility – and there really shouldn’t be.

Flexibility = outcomes and accountability

Offering people to work from home for a couple of prescribed days a week is not true flexibility. Nor is allowing them to leave the office for a few hours if they stay back for an equal amount of time to catch up.

True flexibility from an employer standpoint requires ditching the bums on seats and time reigns supreme mentalities and replacing them with a focus on outcomes and accountability. Does it matter where and when this person works, if they get their work done?

At HorizonOne, the events of 2020 caused us to re-evaluate every position in terms of outcomes so we could measure productivity while everyone worked from home. Luckily, we didn’t experience any drops in performance, and achieved the same high quality results that we normally would – however we still attribute this to our long-standing culture of accountability, and bringing people into our business who work this way.

Of course, some people naturally work better when they’re in the office. And while working from home sounds appealing, they may struggle to get their work done.

Some people also don’t want to work from home, so mandating three days working out of the office will likely not produce the best results from them.

This is where having an honest conversation with an employee about how to help them do their best work can make all the difference.

Flexibility means different things to different people

Another issue with creating a blanket concept of “flexibility” is that it cannot mean the same thing for every person in every role.

It’s impossible to offer remote work for roles that require a customer-facing presence during normal working hours, such as reception. In these cases, flexible work could mean being open to reduced hours or a job share arrangement instead.

A generic approach to flexible work also doesn’t always suit every employee either. Not everyone can, or would want, to work from home. Some people are early risers, and some like to have personal time in the morning and work later in the evenings.

Ideally, you want to maintain open conversations about what flexibility means to each individual and how the business may or may not be able to offer it.

Flexibility is a two-way street

If you’re feeling the pressure to offer flexible work to remain competitive in the recruitment market, it’s better to leave it as an open ended conversation (we offer flexible working options) rather than specifying what flexibility works for you as an employer (we offer two days working from home each week). Because chances are, that option may not work for the candidate and you may not get the best outcomes from them. Only offering one type of flexible working… is not actually flexible.

Once you stop viewing flexibility as an umbrella term and start humanising it, employers and employees can begin to work together to achieve the best outcome for the business.

Perhaps flexibility itself becomes an incentive once an employee demonstrates a certain level of accountability. Or perhaps accountability is tied to incentives such as individual recognition, performance bonuses, or even an employee share scheme.

By working together to define what flexibility means for them, employers and employees can start to build a new level of trust, confidence and engagement – and this is the key to creating a genuinely flexible workplace.

David Harrington
HorizonOne Recruitment

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