The pandemic ushered in widespread remote work arrangements that have now become the preferred way of working for many people. Returning to “the way things were” is not a realistic option post-pandemic, no matter how loudly and continually well-known leaders like Elon Musk, Martha Stewart, or Chase CEO Jamie Dimon insist it should.
In my opinion, the growing demand for flexibility at work is not necessarily a bad thing—but more importantly, it is a reality that businesses need to recognize and plan for. I’m in agreement with Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary, who commented, “The economy has changed radically. The problem with saying everybody has to work in the office is you won’t be able to hire the best talent.”
Studies continue to show that significant portions of the workforce do not want to return to the office full time, and they are willing to switch jobs for and are choosing positions based on remote work availability.
People Want Flexibility at Work
One reason why hybrid and remote work is here to stay is because workers are demanding it. Workers have long wanted flexibility at work, which facilitates a better work-life balance. When people are in control of their schedule and can adjust things to meet their daily needs, it’s simply better.
I especially see this with my colleagues who are parents. Being able to attend your child’s game in the afternoon, drive them to lessons, or care for them when they are sick while also meeting your work responsibilities makes a huge difference. It reduces stress and improves performance and job satisfaction. Truly though, it applies to everyone. We all feel better when we can manage our schedules more easily and with less stress. People without children also have appointments and other reasons they need flexibility at work!
Flexibility Benefits Us All
Long commutes and snarled traffic result in more than just stress. They are a waste of gas and energy and a contributor to climate change and its negative effects. Workplace flexibility reduces this waste by either eliminating the commute totally or shifting it to a less congested time. This is key to sustainability.
Hours spent commuting are also not productive. Flexible workspaces offer cost-efficiency benefits to employers by creating happier employees—which can translate to increased productivity and reduced turnover—in addition to lowering real estate and related office costs.
Offering Flexibility at Work the Right Way
It’s important to get remote and hybrid arrangements right for both employers and employees. Employers who insist on people sitting at their desks for no good reason are fighting a losing battle, and they’ll end up at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining the best people. Smart leaders are rethinking how to deliver the flexibility employees want while ensuring their business operates at the high level needed for success and profitability.
Concerns about collaboration, teamwork, company culture, and employee training and growth are real and need to be addressed. The answer isn’t a return to 2019 though.
Being truthful and realistic about deadlines is a great start. Not everything can be a “need it asap” rush, and acting with excessive urgency will quickly erode the trust and loyalty of your employees. Investing in technology, as well as optimizing processes and procedures, can help you speed up timelines while solving some of the challenges of managing a hybrid workplace.
Better tools for collaborating remotely are one solution. Office set-ups that empower employees to work without interruption or distractions are another. There’s also a need to eliminate issues that affect employees in either arrangement. Long and unnecessary meetings are a pain, whether held in-person or online! There are definite pain points for our hybrid model at the moment, but that’s because we are still in a transition phase and are relying on old systems to conduct work in a new way. Hybrid work will be more successful for everyone once these issues are fixed.
Flexibility Is a Two-Way Street
Employees also need to be realistic—perhaps more realistic than some people are right now. While not everything is an emergency and schedules can be flexible, deadlines are real. The work has to get done. Balance is the keyword in the phrase “work-life balance.” Sometimes, work has to be the most important thing and will require the employee to be the flexible one.
Working remotely cannot be synonymous with not doing your job. Results matter. But calling people into the office only to be on conference calls most of the day is silly, and employees know it. On the other hand, conference calls that are interrupted by children or pets or taken in pajamas are not reasonable either.
I think all sides of the discussion on workplace arrangements make very valid points, and what matters most is finding the right solutions for your business and taking useful, productive action. Simply demanding a return to the old days is no more a solution than insisting that we all work the way we did in 2020. The companies that find the right balance will attract and retain the best talent. That’s always a recipe for success!