The conversations surrounding returning to work are primarily focused on hybrid, remote or in-person models. They all have their added benefits and detractions. However, there is another option that offers a potentially better balance of life and work that is mostly overlooked by major corporations: flexibility.
Flexibility empowers workers as it provides them with autonomy over their work lives. A flexible work model offers employees the trust to curate their own schedules. They can decide when and where they want to work. With management buy-in, the employee can create their own schedule, along with input from their team leaders, without fear of being reprimanded for carving time out to see their children’s school plays or visiting the doctor. A person may decide to go into the office five days a week, then work remotely for the rest of the month. By enabling people to design their own schedule, it’s highly likely that they’ll be happier and more productive.
Data Shows Americans Crave Flexibility
According to a recent McKinsey American Opportunity report, nearly 90% of the people surveyed said, if offered, they would accept a flexible work option. This finding was consistent across the demographics among the 25,000 Americans polled. In the United States, almost 60% of people currently work from home at least one day a week, with only 35% able to work from home full time.
With childcare issues, concerns about Covid resurgences and other potential health hazards like Monkeypox, burnout and the savings on gas achieved by not having to commute, a flexible work model provides the answer to achieving a greater work-life balance.
People crave the opportunity to be trusted to do their best work, as a cookie-cutter forced program may not align with their needs and hamper their productivity. In a separate study conducted by the Pew Research Center from this year, 48% of respondents with a child 18 years or younger left their jobs because of inadequate or nonexistent child-care options. Nearly 40% of those surveyed said they quit because they were working too much. Unable to make their own hours, 45% of workers left their organizations due to a lack of flexibility.
Challenges With The Hybrid, Remote And Full-Time In-Office Work Models
Hybrid became widely accepted after big-tech, high-profile companies instituted this model. The new standard required staffers to come into the office on two or three designated days a week and work from home the rest of the week.
Employees have pointed out a glaring flaw in the hybrid work style. Although they appreciate the balance of being at home and in the office, the policy, while an improvement, is unintentionally restrictive.
For instance, a person may have a prior engagement on one of the days they are supposed to be in the office and feel distressed that they won’t be able to go into the office on the required day. They also feel this could be used against them in an annual performance review. People are unique and have individualized needs. A single, working mother may need to drop off and pick up their child from elementary school and have to come in late for work and leave early.
A two-class system could easily develop. People in the office will benefit from the proximity bias. Meanwhile, the remote workers will start feeling left out. Under time constraints, an important impromptu meeting is ordered. You can easily envision the hybrid and remote workers being forgotten and left out of the conversation. A group of co-workers who want a quick brainstorming session may not stop everything to seek out anyone who isn’t in the office on this day and just proceed with it.
For many women, who disproportionately bear the brunt of caregiving, flexibility is not a luxury perk, but rather fundamental to their participation in the labor market. Indeed, the large job aggregation site and résumé database site, surveyed 1,001 women within the U.S. who have transitioned from full-time to gig work, contract roles, part-time employment or completely opted out of the workforce.
According to the report, 83% of the working women said they prefer flexibility over stability. For some respondents, flexibility is not viewed as a preference, but rather a requirement for employment. The major barriers to full-time in-office work for the respondents were mental health issues (54%) or the increasing need to take care of children or sick, elderly family members (51%).
What Companies Are Doing To Bring Flexibility To The Workplace
In a prior conversation with Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak and OpenTable, the forward-thinking executive champions a flexible style, putting the employees in control over their lives. They can decide if they want to go into the office, how many and which days are the best fit. A person could elect to go into the office five days a week or none. It could be two weeks out and one week in an office. They may be interested in checking out an office in another U.S. city or country outside of the states.
Hafner has tapped into the zeitgeist of what’s most impactful for his people, stating, “Our team wanted greater flexibility and mobility, so we listened.” He added, “I remain an advocate for in-person collaboration and we will continue to embrace that at Kayak and OpenTable. Our employees are demonstrating that great talent can do anything—from anywhere—and make an incredible impact.”
In an interview with Cathy Moy, chief people officer of major accounting firm BDO, she shared her plan for the future of work. Moy’s heuristic concept is that business leaders should trust their employees. Building on this first principle, the company’s core purpose is to help people—employees, clients and business partners— thrive every day.
The company’s past, present and future work style is flexible. Employees are empowered to decide for themselves where they will work. Whereas the hybrid model is rigid, in that it makes staff return to an office on specific days, BDO affords the freedom and autonomy for employees to decide for themselves.
The decision-making process is decentralized and locally made, along with input from team leaders. If a person wants to come into an office because they’re feeling the stress of isolation at home, tired of barking dogs, leaf blowers, loud construction on the house across the street, wonky internet connections and a cat that jumps on the keyboard and photobombs your video presentation, the person could work in peace at an office. If someone wants to stay for the week, it’s fine. If they want to work on the beach, that’s cool too.
Moy contends that people who work in a flexible environment are happier, leading to better performance for both themselves and clients. They are more motivated and committed to the company, due to the high level of trust and the resulting environment that encourages people to thrive personally and professionally.
Because everyone has unique needs, responsibilities and interests, flexibility is not a one-size-fits-all approach. A person’s time spent working at a BDO office, client site or in a remote location “can vary from week to week, team to team and engagement to engagement.” Moy encourages her people to find the right type of individual arrangements that benefit them, the firm’s clients and fellow colleagues.
Moy says that they hire people because they believe in them. She feels that dictating the terms of going into an office reflects distrust. This opens up a larger conversation. It seems that there will be a great divide over the future of work. There will be people and companies, like BDO, that value and trust their workers. They don’t subscribe to the old notion that face time in an office is more important than output and productivity.
While some bosses are always suspicious of what their staff is up to, Moy takes a different approach. She subscribes to the theory of “positive intent.” This concept accepts that the actions taken by workers are based on trying to do the right thing. This doesn’t mean that the results will be positive. Sometimes things just don’t turn out as planned. “It’s okay,” Moy contends. In a “safe, trusting environment,” people are allowed to make mistakes and fail without fear of reprimand or repercussions.
This year, Cisco, an American multinational technology company, conducted a hybrid work survey of 28,000 full-time employees across 27 markets. The study found that flexibility is beneficial to an employee’s all-around wellness in both their career and personal lives. “For most, across different generations, gender and seniority, work performance has improved as well as employees’ well-being, work-life balance, relationships and even personal confidence.”
Putting this data to practical business use, the tech company does not order its workers to come into an office on appointed days. Instead, the philosophy of Cisco is to decentralize the decision-making process, so that team leaders and staff can arrive at mutually beneficial work styles. This means, in reality, the individual is afforded the freedom to decide when it’s best suited to come into the office. The flexibility woven into the model allows a person to work from home in the morning and then come into the headquarters for lunch to meet up with colleagues they haven’t seen in person for two years, then head home before the evening rush hour.