Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Many organizations cite flexibility as being an important quality. And for good reason. Flexibility is the key to successfully adapting to a changing business environment. When the business world changes, we have to be prepared to change with it.
Some organizations value flexibility so much that they promote it in their marketing such as “Have it your way!” or “special orders don’t upset us”. The point being that organizations want customers to believe that they are flexible.
It only makes sense that organizations placing a value on flexibility will want to have flexible employees. If the organization doesn’t currently have a lot of flexibility, it can work with employees to improve their flexibility skills. That might involve coaching employees to handle change more effectively or positively. Because flexibility and change go together.
But the reason I’m spending this time talking about flexibility is because it makes no sense to tell the world that the organization values and demonstrates flexibility with its customers and then doesn’t do it with employees. I’m talking about organizations expect employees to be flexible but then don’t want to be flexible back. It’s a huge disconnect. And it has an impact on employee trust.
At this year’s Future of Everything conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal, one of the speakers mentioned workplace flexibility in the context of onsite / remote / hybrid work. I forget the exact words, but it was something like “It’s not about onsite, hybrid, or remote work. It’s about offering flexibility.” It made me wonder if the conversation about hybrid and remote work is almost becoming too rigid and that we’re forgetting about being flexible.
I totally understand that some work needs to be completed in a specific place or at a certain time. That’s fine. But not all work has an assigned location or a deadline. So maybe instead of spending our time focused on where the employee is located and what time they arrive or depart, we should focus on giving the employee the tools and flexibility to get the work done. Wherever and whenever it works for them. Just do the work well.
Then, organizations are truly focused on flexibility – with both customers and employees.
Companies that really value flexibility and proclaim it’s important will build flexibility into their core values. Not just for customers, for everyone. They will ask candidates questions about flexibility during interviews like “Describe a time when you showed flexibility at work.” Managers will discuss flexibility during one-on-one meetings such as “If you could change one thing about your current role, what would it be?” Employees will be given the proper training and tools, then be supported to get the work done.
This isn’t exclusive to hybrid and remote work. Even in organizations where the majority of employees work onsite, flexibility is still important. Managers do not have time to micromanage their teams – nor should they.
Managers need to be in a position where they can confidently delegate the work and know employees are well trained to get it done on time and at the agreed upon quality standard. They also want to know that if something out of the norm occurs, employees are comfortable coming to them to discuss options. Organizations that don’t create flexible workplaces run the risk of wearing out their management teams. This isn’t good for managers, employees, or the company.
In all of our talk about employees and the future of work, we can’t forget the role of flexibility.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the Flora Icelandic HR Management Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland23