What is flexible work?

Por: Pedro Ferreira - January 11, 2022

What is flexible work?

Working from anywhere, being able to organize a working day with freedom, being always available, but having greater control over your time - these are some of the possibilities that occur when thinking about what flexible work is. A rapidly evolving work concept that requires employers and employees to rethink and restructure their day-to-day work, promoting a cultural change in the way work is perceived and materialized.

Flexible working is a type of work arrangement that gives a degree of flexibility over how long, where, when and at which hours employees work. A flexible working agreement is an agreement between an employer and an employee to change the default working mode in order to better accommodate the employees's commitments outside their job.

An indispensable prerequisite for ensuring flexible working is to challenge rigid and traditional working models. Rather than keeping employees in their workplace for eight hours, flexible working means responding to employees' personal needs as well as reacting to the corresponding workload.

On the other hand, a certain freedom in choosing the workplace is an important component of flexible working. In times of massive digitization, a permanent presence in the company is not necessary in all cases.

Contrary to popular belief, flexible working is not just for office workers. There are several functions with access to flexibility. Some examples include offering employees some ability to design their own schedule with remote access being part of it; flexible start and end times; combine and share functions, for example: some days in an operational function and other days in a function that allows remote work.

Very recently, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work and showed that traditional working models, which place a high value on “face-to-face”, are now firmly in the past. During this period, many companies adopted flexible working practices, such as remote working, at an unprecedented pace. This not only protects the workforce and ensures business continuity, but also supports broader official measures to contain the outbreak. Working from home or remotely can mean that people avoid long trips and have fewer distractions than in an office environment.

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Potential Benefits of Flexible Working

Flexible working can lead to direct and indirect business benefits. Direct business benefits include saving office space, for example, by using information and communication technologies to enable remote work or remote office access. Flexible working also allows a better match between business resources and demand, such as serving customers 24/7.

Indirect business benefits are obtained through employee satisfaction and well-being at work. Some studies indicate that flexible workers have a higher level of job satisfaction and commitment, and are more likely to increase effort compared to those who do not work flexibly.

Principles to Take into account in Flexible Work Management

Although flexible working models increase employee productivity and motivation to some extent, while allowing for a better balance in life and a better adaptation of work to individual needs and personal lifestyle, there is still great distrust in relation to home office or remote work solutions. Therefore, it becomes necessary to determine, case by case, and in advance, the basic principles to ensure success in flexible working hours.

Flexible Working: Principles for Employers

Make Clear Agreements.

Flexible working demands clear agreements. Only if the general conditions are transparent and the main expectations clearly formulated, can a new work culture of trust emerge.

Measure Employee Performance.

Employee performance must be objectively defined and measured. The criteria must be defined in advance and preferably recorded in writing.

Don't Neglect Leadership.

Even employees without a permanent presence need leadership. This means that regular criticism but also recognition and appreciation must be expressed. Under no circumstances, it should be done exclusively by email, but also in personal conversations and via phone calls.

Ensure Proper Working Conditions.

Employers have a duty to look after their employees. This also applies to conditions made available at flexible workplaces. This includes proper home office equipment as well as clear adherence to certain quiet times during which no phone calls or emails should be made.

Strengthen the Sense of Community.

Promoting direct exchange, valuing oneself and thus strengthening cooperation and a sense of community are also important duties of the employer, which must not be neglected. Joint team events are therefore essential.

Always Update Corporate Culture.

New work structures can only be successful if they are compatible with the corporate culture, philosophy and objectives, thus it is important to update and transmit the company's culture to employees to allow the work to occur within a set of values, missions and goals by reach.

Flexible Working: Principles for Employees

Check Suitability.

If you want to practice flexible working, you must first critically review your own suitability for flexible working models. Many people feel insecure without a certain structure.

Take responsibility.

The employee assumes more entrepreneurial thinking and must be aware of his responsibility to the employer.

Set Clear Objectives.

Flexible working models are not a sideline, they require more assertiveness and presence to develop further.

Communicate correctly.

Your own tasks, processes and deadlines must be clearly communicated to the employer.

Set Work Pace.

Finding your pace: The pace of work should be tailored to your productivity and personal needs, without neglecting team processes.

Flexible working hours and workplace models require a high degree of self-organization. Those who work in flexible working models must also create a productive environment in their own home. To successfully practice flexible working, employees need to address their own strengths and weaknesses, offering a competitive advantage to those who are highly structured and disciplined and who as such can perform better in this model. Employees who lack these talents should try to compensate for these weaknesses with complementary strengths.

Strict working time models are becoming less and less attractive to many talented employees. A growing number of job seekers already consider flexible working and working hours an important or even the most important criterion for an employer, and companies that better understand this trend will be able to ensure that they hire the best talent.

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