Truly flexible workplaces require systemic change, not band-aids

Truly flexible workplaces require systemic change, not band-aids


Flexible Working Day 2020 falls on June 10 and this year, the timing couldn’t be more poignant as the global impact of COVID-19 grows to Herculean proportions across communities and businesses around the world. In the space of a few short weeks, companies have been forced to reimagine and, in many cases, relocate their workforces, with staff being encouraged where possible to leave the CBD and their offices behind, and work from home.

So in 2020, the nature of Flexible Working Day has shifted radically. It’s no longer simply an ambitious endeavour to dispel some long-held myths surrounding the effectiveness and importance of flexible workplaces, and advocate against ‘flexism’. Flexible Working Day is now a critical debate about what really matters – people’s wellbeing – and the effectiveness with which a company’s staff is able to achieve results for customers and clients, from wherever they are.

We’ve all seen by now copious ‘How To’ lists, assisting employees to adapt to working remotely due to the extraordinary circumstances COVID-19 has created, and the new restrictions placed on how most of us go about our days.

But what does it really take to drive fundamental change in the way traditional workplaces operate?

Truly flexible workplaces requires systemic change, not Band-Aids – and here’s why:

Flexible working for mental health and staff wellbeing
Every employee is on a personal journey of his or her own. What drives them will evolve over the course of their careers as their circumstances and life stages change, and it’s vital that workplaces recognise this.

Staff will thrive best when their workplace is a truly ‘safe’ space in which to work, and bold moves towards more flexible workplaces across a range of industries will help build that. Flexible workplaces and the level of trust implicit in them, as much as they inspire staff on a personal level, also gives them the freedom to achieve their potential, allowing them to thrive.

Agility to better serve clients and customers
Empowering employees as much as possible within the workplace gives them a sense of control over their jobs and careers. If they feel that they are making their own decisions – manifesting their own destinies – they are going to be happier, which in turn creates a positive energy that will be reflected in client interactions and relationships.

Versatile work arrangements enable staff to be more responsive and dynamic than those which rely on a more traditional ‘business hours’ model. A flexible workplace fosters a high level of mutual respect and honest dialogue amongst the team and between staff, clients, and stakeholders, which in turn enables businesses to constantly improve the way they serve clients and business.

Work-life blend
More than ever before, remote working is blurring the lines between ‘home’ and ‘work’. So how businesses support their staff over the course of their careers is vital if, as a community, we are to see any lasting change.

There are valuable in-roads being paved for both men and women in this domain. Women have historically shouldered the heavy burden of being primary carers for both children and ageing parents, which has inevitably affected their careers. But this imbalance didn’t evolve necessarily because men didn’t want to help; the expectations on them regarding workplace attendance and performance have been very different, and just as demanding. The truth is, everyone deserves flexibility – regardless of gender. 

Truly flexible working is an integrated work-life blend, not simply having the freedom to take time off for an appointment or your child’s school concert. For employers, there needs to be a more fluid approach and a commitment to crafting solutions which aid staff in managing their work-life blend which also benefit clients. 

Technology platforms and systems to support a shift to remote working
Technology certainly provides us with tools which we can use to facilitate flexibility and increased productivity/connectivity.

Embracing technology to facilitate flexible working produces a variety of benefits, including the streamlining of workflow, improving and enhancing internal and external communications, and being able to service clients better and more efficiently.

Company change needs to be driven by leadership
Business leaders – CEOs, Founders, and Boards – are in a better position now, more than ever before, to reimagine and redefine the boundaries around what workplaces look like, and how they function.

Many organisations pay lip service to the idea that employees can ‘work flexibly’, but this comes from the default position that the main arrangement will be a traditional, business hours, in-office model, with anything outside of that being categorised as ‘flexible’.

As a business leader, it’s vital that I champion and empower my entire team by making their working environment as positive and flexible as it needs to be for them to get their jobs done, enabling them, in turn, to give back to our clients, our industry, and the community at large. Everyone prospers.

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