Flexibility at work is no longer a perk or a privilege, and don’t even think about calling it a benefit. It is now a right. If you wonder how flexibility has so swiftly metamorphosed as the new entitlement, look to COVID-19.
The sudden shift to remote proved unequivocally that working outside the traditional realms of an office environment is more than possible. Employees juggled work requirements and family, in ways never experienced before. They chose how and when to fit it all in. The first wave of lockdowns tested us, but we all thought we would be back in the office soon. Then came Delta and Omicron, and with it, flexible working became our new norm and habit. Flexibility enabled other parts of our lives to be a priority, giving us more autonomy and it is not something we are willing to give up.
Concerns for health and our sense of mortality are deeply embedded in our psyche. Flexibility at work not only caters for this but is seen as a prerogative. 90% of workers want flexibility in where and when they work, and 54% of employees would leave their job if not given some form of flexibility. If that was not enough, the elusive search for skilled workers has the scales of power weighted firmly with our workforce. So, if you are contemplating pushing back on flexibility for your own workforce, you may want to reconsider.
What does flexibility look like?
Flexibility has evolved to much more than working from home. At the heart of it, it is freedom and autonomy in when and where we work. Also, referred to as the goldilocks solution, not too much, nor too little, just the right amount of flexibility, thanks.
When we work; earlier starts, late in the evening and weekends allow other life requirements to fit. We dabbled with this previously, i.e., part-time hours for school pick-up, and even job shares, but it was with some reluctance and significant negotiation for many employers. What of the employees who craved similar flexibility for their priorities but did not have the ‘family’ card? Now, it is not about starting earlier at 7.45 am or working through lunch. If we want and it works in with overall company goals and objectives, it can mean working at 2 am.
We struggled previously with ‘work-life balance’, or maybe that was yesterday’s entitlement, compartmentalising work, and other parts of our life. Now we blend. We still deal with compromises, but there is something powerful and psychologically fulfilling with the sense of autarchy and autonomy. Previously this would have been viewed as an infringement, and now it is acceptable and in fact, demanded. In 2016, France introduced the ‘Right to Disconnect’ to protect workers from being penalised if not responding to work communications ‘out of hours’, and here we are now, 6 years later, entitled to it!
Where we work is no longer confined to ‘from home’. Employees want the flexibility to work from anywhere, cafes, trains, airports or even while on holiday, a 'workation'. There is the benefit of increased productivity from scenarios that would ordinarily require time off. Where we work opens a chasm of opportunity to hire regionally and internationally. Technology dovetails perfectly with remote, meaning we are now boundaryless and without borders. Surely this is the dream of humanity? To share the same work identity, despite the cultural or geographic differences.
The concern for security and protection of IP remains, as does the issue of insurance and workers’ compensation. The definition of an employee needs further consideration, as do freelancers and contractors for confidential and proprietary information.
Are we really surprised?
Flexibility has always been highly prized. The right timing of COVID-19 with our global skills shortage and flexibility was set free. In 1969, the idea of remote work was predicted by Alan Kiron, i.e., how computers and new communication tools could change life and work. And In 1985, two psychologists, Ryan and Deci, through their ‘self-determination’ theory asserted that one’s autonomous motivation for personal psychological growth is the foundational catalyst of human success and fulfilment. Remote working and what we refer to as the ‘new entitlement’ of flexibility/ autonomy has always been omnipresent.
We have been encouraged by The Great Resignation, great reshuffle and public display of workers’ rights to join a brave new world, to take our careers into our own hands. But like any good thing in life, a little bit too much and we could be spoilt. The world is changing rapidly, and the next ‘big thing’ could be a need for more structure. Seek flexibility smartly according to your personality, job role, responsibility and life circumstances and honour flexibility for what it gifts you.