Workplace flexibility: your staff will thank you!

Working nine to five is a concept ingrained in society, but it is slowly giving way to flexible workplace arrangements. So what exactly is workplace flexibility, and how can you implement it without harming your operations?

If you want your workforce to be happier, you should consider implementing flexible workplace arrangements, according to one business management consultant.

Speaking at an online seminar organised by HR Assured, workplace relations consultant Ava Balsara highlighted the fact that in a recent Officeworks survey, 70 per cent of employees said flexible workplace arrangements would result in a better work/life balance and happier attitudes, which translate to greater productivity.

“Employers should really be focusing on results, and not the number of hours spent in the office or how many bums are on seats, really,” Ava said.

“If you tell your staff, 'I trust that you are going to do work in the best interest of the business, and do what is best for our business' ... there is going to be a sense of empowerment there of workers.”

What are flexible workplace arrangements?

While the term 'flexible workplace arrangements' has quite a legislative depth, it basically means allowing your employees to have more of a say in when and where they work.

Ava said flexible workplace trends include:

  • flexible leave options, at 55 per cent of the workforce;
  • allowing a small amount of leniency when it comes to start and finish times, at 50 per cent of the workforce;
  • time off in lieu of overtime pay, at 43 per cent of the workforce;
  • bank hours, such as rostered days off, at 31 per cent of the workforce;
  • changing from full-time to part-time and vice versa, at 28 per cent of the workforce;
  • and working from home or a location other than the main workplace, at 11 per cent of the workforce.

A woman performing a yoga pose on top of a large rock“There is a very strong argument that when workers are given flexibility and they're not required to be at their physical workplace, and there's trust ... between the employer and employee, and they're empowered, then there is a strong likelihood that the quality of work will increase because there's not a focus on quantity,” said Ava.

“If you tell your staff, 'I trust that you are going to do work in the best interest of the business, and do what is best for our business' ... there is going to be a sense of empowerment there of workers.”

As it currently stands, 40 per cent of employers have received requests for flexible working arrangements, and 28 per cent of employees have made requests for flexible working arrangements.

“The 28 per cent is quite low, and I think we will see that that will increase as the workforce participation numbers grow. Additionally, those numbers will also grow as businesses increase their investment into IT infrastructure,” Ava said.

How do you implement flexible workplace arrangements?

According to Ava, flexible workplace arrangements have to mesh with the business’ goals.

“What are the business' goals? The business needs to align its flexibility goals with short- and long-term strategy,” she said.

“If the business requires structure to achieve its commercial goals, then flexibility may not be feasible, and that's OK.

“You need to have that honest reflection into your business and say, 'Do our commercial needs and strategies meet the flexible workplace strategies that we would like to offer?'.”

“What are the business' goals? The business needs to align its flexibility goals with short- and long-term strategy."

Ava said business owners should think about whether they have the resources and infrastructure to achieve these goals.

“It's all very well and good to say, 'We're a workplace that provides flexibility', but can you actually provide that flexibility, and what does it look like?” she said.

Tips for implementing workplace flexibility

A lady lying on a lounge on a laptopAva also provided these tips for implementing workplace flexibility into businesses:

Clearly articulate the company's expectations regarding flexibility

“If someone's working from home, make very clear what they can and cannot do, ask for a progress report and advise them [that] this is a benefit to them, and that the benefits should be of course respected,” she said.

Make sure your flexibility strategy is aligned with the overall business strategy

Ava reiterated that workplace flexibility strategies have to align with the overall business strategy.

“If they don't work together beautifully and flow together, it's not going to work,” she said.

Make sure there is a process of continual evaluation of the flexibility strategy

“Evaluate, re-evaluate, learn from experiences, not mistakes, and make sure that you're always moving forward to what is something that is really for the best interest of the business.”

Review employment contracts and policies that cover flexibility on a regular basis

“Make sure that they comply with legislative requirements, changes in legislation, changes in best practice, but also changes in your own strategies, both commercial and otherwise.”

Consider what other businesses are doing to support flexible work arrangements

To get an idea of how to implement workplace flexibility, Ava suggested looking at how other businesses do it.

“It's really nice to see where you as a business fit into the scheme of things when you assess yourself or benchmark yourself against other businesses, and particularly if you want to be a business of choice: what are you doing to achieve that?” she said.

Seek employee feedback

While learning from other businesses, employers can also learn from how their own employees react to changes in the workplace.

“At the end of the day, I'm a big believer that you're only as good as your best people, and you really need to provide an opportunity for the people to be the best people, so seek employee feedback at regular intervals,” Ava said.

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