As businesses scramble to write a new narrative, devise fresh strategies, and experiment with unfamiliar business models, an unpredictable future seems to be the only constant. With the uncertainty of COVID-19 acting as a potential roadblock in our path ahead, organizations around the world are confronted with an unanticipated and overwhelming set of obstacles.
COVID-19 has forced many organizations into flexible working schedules overnight, and while leaders attempt to navigate this sudden shift, we are seeing surprising outcomes emerge from these new ways of working. Today’s newfound flexibility not only has the potential to mitigate some of businesses’ greatest challenges, but the ability to change our ways of working forever.
Even eight months in, there is still no clear roadmap to success in the age of COVID-19. However, we are more certain than not that flexible and remote working will be a major part of our “new normal.” And as we look forward, it is crucial that business leaders understand what it takes to build a flexible work culture that is sustainable and ensures employee productivity, satisfaction, and well-being. Below are a few points to help leaders understand why flexibility is critical in today’s era, and how they can properly implement it within their organizations.
Gone are the days of one-size fits all
Prior to the pandemic, employees and leaders alike were skeptical of remote work for reasons involving productivity and practicality, according to a recent survey conducted by my firm, M Moser Associates. Traditional ways of work, such as commutes, workplace structures, and levels of autonomy, had been more or less consistent for decades.
However, in the last few months, we have seen a shift unlike any we’ve witnessed before -- one that has rapidly motivated extreme change in the way we work, specifically in the realm of individual autonomy. Not only are traditional business models and structures in need of such change, but the people behind them are ready for it as well.
Both leaders and employees are questioning the need for daily commutes to the office and seeing the benefits of coming to the office only for specific reasons. This includes meetings that would fare better in person, hands-on collaboration, or relationship building. Additionally, businesses are able to maximize space efficiency with less office interaction.
While there are various challenges associated with working from home, like uncomfortable set ups and household disruptions, we see that workers and businesses no longer have the same skepticism towards remote work and the flexibility that comes along with it.
People are enjoying a new sense of autonomy
According to our survey, it’s not simply speculation that employees are enjoying their new level of choice and autonomy. A majority of respondents - 83% - reported that they like working remotely, while a mighty 86% would go as far as to say they’d forgo benefits in exchange for more flexibility.
Leaders should take advantage of these insights and embrace all that a flexible working style has to offer, while ensuring that their employees have control over their work and well-being. Ultimately, allowing workers greater autonomy will yield higher levels of employee happiness and productivity, and therefore benefit the organization throughout.
Flexibility requires a human-first approach
Leaders have a unique opportunity to create a sense of safety and support for their employees; to accomplish this, it’s essential that they align themselves with their employees’ needs and prioritize their workers first. Based on the survey conducted in May, 93% of participants have felt supported by their organizations through the pandemic. However, as we look to sustain this model of increased autonomy as lockdowns ease, leaders must possess some sort of roadmap for ensuring their employees’ continued success. This roadmap should include the following components:
- Safety: After enduring the trauma of a global pandemic, fostering employee mental and physical safety is key for setting the foundation of a culture that can flourish. Businesses must work to support their employees in any way they can and to the best of their abilities.
- Belonging: Inclusivity and community is at the root of what makes a company and its people thrive. Instilling these values within a work culture will help employees see their purpose and mission within an organization.
- Recognition: Making sure employees feel seen will go far in an organization where many responsibilities are placed on employees and their teams. Moreover, a culture of recognition is often tied to the overall success of a workplace.
- Growth: The ability to grow and learn in a work setting is inspiring for many, which is why prioritizing the professional growth of employees as a leader is critical to seeing greater productivity and motivation levels.
Businesses that fail to recognize the importance of these elements are less likely to see their employees happy and engaged, and consequently, may lose the opportunity to make a strong recovery on the tail end of the pandemic. After facing the last few months, there’s never been a better time to embrace change that will result in improved employee well-being.
Flexible working is the future
The pandemic has touched every aspect of the business world, and with its profound impact, leaders must realize that there is no turning back to traditional ways that limit choice and autonomy. The new wave of flexibility has proved to be successful under today’s circumstances, and will likely continue to remain a major part of the “new normal,” as well as a benchmark of corporate resilience.
Ultimately, both employees and leaders must recognize the advantages of flexibility for it to benefit a company and allow its people to flourish. With increased choice and autonomy, businesses will experience higher productivity, lower costs, healthier work-life balance and improved workplace morale. However, this can only occur if leaders take the necessary steps toward putting their employees first and making changes that tap into the benefits of flexibility. If executed with the proper intention and leadership, businesses will be able to better understand and implement flexibility as a tool to help us endure the uncertain circumstances of today and beyond.