What does workplace flexibility really mean?
What does workplace flexibility mean, really? Reduced hours, location independence, micro-agility? Whatever it means to you, chances are, your employees have different lifestyles, desires, expectations and therefore needs. Today’s conversation around remote work, in particular, shouldn’t be one size fits all. At Beacon, the question we’re starting with is ‘How can our team spend the optimal number of hours during any given week doing their very best, focussed, full-selves, kind of work’.
We are a partially distributed team. We work in an office, alongside our wonderful clients, about 1-2 days per week and we are remote the rest of the time. We love and look forward to our ‘Co-Work Wednesdays’, where we get together as a team and spend the day hustling side-by-side. Flexibility to us means location independence and a significant amount of autonomy over our schedules. For example, our day could be split into two to three sprints instead of one 8 hour session, we could be working alongside our client’s teams early in the week, then working remotely at our favourite ski resort Thursday through Sunday. Regardless, we’re committed to delivering the very best results for our clients.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
When we started, I argued that in a traditional office environment there are hours of wasted productivity through coffee breaks, long lunches, and water cooler talk. I still maintain that belief but now look at productivity a little differently. Teams need to get to know each other to be productive and to feel engaged and the ‘water cooler talk’ is super important. We’ve built this into our weeks with scheduled activities to catch up on each other’s lives, check in with our ‘word of the week’, and to chit-chat with no intention. We have also put a bit of structure and process in place to create opportunities for ‘casual’ encounters because we don’t have the luxury of popping our heads over to the person next door to see to see how they’re doing that day.
Self-discipline and exceptional time management are must-haves for the distributed team. These skills usually take a few years of solid work experience to build up and longer to master. If you’re the type of employee who needs a more structured work environment where you have other people holding you accountable most or all of the time, a flexible or remote work lifestyle is probably not for you. Flexibility and remote work are best suited for intermediate or senior level individuals who have a high sense of self-efficacy.
3. Being able to work remotely opens up the world to you BUT... there are stipulations. Things that you take for granted in an office environment like fast wifi, strong cell signal and free calling, low background noise, an ergonomic setup, and even a printer/scanner need to be thought out when you work in another location. You need to think about your activities and the time zone you’re in too. Our team loves to travel and we’re learning some hacks as we go. As an employer, it’s important to set expectations around this - for us, this means that we take extra steps to make sure our clients receive the exact same level of exceptional service if we’re in town or out.
4. Remote work is a huge competitive advantage for employers. The gig economy is here so you might as well embrace it! There’s an incredible talent pool of parents, for example, with many years of breadth and depth of experience, who need more flexibility and want an employer who can provide this. We’re starting to tap into this amazing workforce and are encouraging our clients to be open minded where possible and to on occasion think outside the box when it comes to talent acquisition.
5. Culture and company vision become even more important in flexible work environments. No matter how independently an employee is set up to do their best work, they still want to feel connected to the greater purpose, feel part of a tight-knit team, and have guidelines for how to behave in moments of uncertainty.
Thinking about incorporating more flexibility into your company?
What works for a tech start-up may not work for an established corporation. Don’t make it guesswork, start with your desired outcome in mind then look to the data to understand what kind of flexibility your team members need and want the most.