On a scale of one to 10, where one is no flexibility and 10 is unlimited flexibility, where does your organization sit on the following?
- The time of day employees work
- The location employees work from
- How employees choose to get their job done
If you scored less than a seven for any of the above, it’s time for a rethink on flexibility at your organization.
Last year, one of my teammates at Inventium, the behavioral science consultancy I founded, shared this nifty crowdsourced summary of hundreds of Australian companies’ work from home (WFH) policies.
It reveals that less than a quarter of Australian companies are fully flexible when it comes to work location. This is a slightly poorer result than in the United States, where around 35 percent of United States employees say they have the flexibility to work from home every day, and it got me thinking about why that’s the case.
Flexibility is now an expectation
As one of the co-creators of the Australian Financial Review BOSS Best Places to Work list, I am given the opportunity every year to look inside nearly 1,000 organizations. In just three years, offering flexible working options has become a basic expectation for many employees. This is a huge step forward in the ongoing juggle between our work and home lives.
However, I find it mildly disturbing that leaders at less flexible companies are pushing their values and beliefs onto staff through mandating a minimum number of three or more days spent in the office per week. Such values and beliefs (that have no evidence or data to back them up) include:
- Productivity is higher when you can see your staff
- Culture can only be built within the four walls of an office
- The best work happens synchronously (when we are all together, live and face-to-face)
- Collaboration is more effective in-person
- Innovation happens best in an office
- Serendipitous conversations and ideas can only occur when we are in the same building
Innovators will be at the forefront
Workplaces that will thrive in the future are the ones that will be brave enough to challenge these assumptions (and, as a result, offer ‘hyper-flexibility’ in terms of working arrangements).
They will pose questions such as:
- What if we can create a compelling culture that doesn’t exist or grow within four walls?
- What if innovation happens most effectively asynchronously and virtually?
- What if we really do value output over hours (rather than just say we do)?
At Inventium, we have challenged a lot of assumptions about how employment works. Several years ago, we had an unlimited paid leave policy that ran successfully for three-and-a-half years. Staff were empowered to take as much paid leave as they needed in order to feel like they had a healthy balance between work and life.
Two-and-a-half years ago, we challenged the notion that our output is higher if we work a standard five-day week.
Instead, we trialed a four-day week (FDW), whereby staff are paid full-time salaries and are still expected to produce the equivalent output of a full-time staff member, but only work four standard eight-hour workdays per week.
The experiment was a huge success and we made the FDW permanent at the end of 2020. Not only did productivity and engagement skyrocket, but financial performance did, too.
Two years ago, we gave up our office leases in Melbourne and Sydney and committed to becoming a remote-first organization, whereby staff can work from anywhere in the world. As a team, we redesigned how collaboration and innovation happened and defaulted to asynchronous communication (where previously, meetings were always the default).
With the war for talent so rife, and people resigning from their jobs to pursue more meaning and more flexibility, it’s not enough to simply do the bare minimum when it comes to providing flexibility for staff.
Organizations that become talent magnets will challenge pre-existing notions of how work best happens and move to exploring less mainstream ideas, such as abandoning office space, adopting the FDW and, ultimately, giving staff more choice rather than less.