What does the future of work look like? For many, a year of remote work has offered a chance to identify unsustainable work expectations and patterns. From the rigid 9–5 to our relentless "always on" work culture, work from home has made it clear just how primed for burnout the average worker truly is.
Remote working has also presented a glimpse at a future where flexible working is the standard — not the exception. But what does that mean in practical terms? How can workers ask for and create flexible work schedules that increase productivity and well-being, allowing them to achieve the elusive work-life balance they need to stay happy and healthy?
As businesses eye in-person and hybrid return-to-work plans, flexible work arrangements should be top of mind for both employers and employees. Post-pandemic, building flexible work policies and structures that actually work will be an essential part of returning to the office.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working is a style of work that gives employees greater control over their hours, frequency of work, work location, and other factors. Types of flexible working can include part-time hours, remote work, flextime, a compressed workweek, hybrid remote work, or any other similar structure.
Flexible working examples may include the following:
- A project manager who works an extra two hours a day as part of a compressed four-day workweek schedule
- A programmer who works from their home office two days a week and out of their company’s office the rest of the time
- A marketing manager who works a modified schedule of 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. instead of 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Workers may seek flexible work arrangements for any number of reasons. Parents of young children and caretakers, for example, may find strict 9-5 in-office attendance difficult to balance with their other commitments.
Flexible working can also suit the lifestyles of digital nomads and other professionals who prefer to be untethered from one centralized physical location.
What are the benefits of flexible working?
For employees, the benefits of flexible working are numerous. Let’s start with the most obvious benefit — work-life balance. According to one FlexJobs survey in partnership with Mental Health America, 48% of workers with flexible working options say their work-life balance is “excellent” or “very good.”
Think of it this way. Most of us have worked in jobs where our work-life balance has not been excellent or very good at all. If you think back to a time in your life when this was the case, did you find that you were more productive or less?
Research tells us that work-life balance is likely linked to productivity. One survey conducted by the Corporate Executive Board found that those who said they had good work-life balance worked 21% harder than those who didn’t.
When it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, flexible working is a major benefit as well. In fact, flexible work schedules can help reduce turnover by up to 87%, according to one study.
Are there disadvantages to flexible work arrangements?
Ultimately, those who opt for flexible working hours will still need to create a structure that works for them.
Flexible working doesn't mean logging on sporadically to do an undefined amount of work a couple of times a week, even while assignments roll in. This is an unsustainable working style. It may create issues for those who struggle with managing their day-to-day work while away from a full-time office setting.
Flexible working and “work whenever” aren’t one and the same. Overcome time management roadblocks by being intentional with your working schedule. Take advantage of flexible working by identifying optimal working days and hours and building structures that support productivity and balance.
Flexible working post-COVID
Work has changed. That much we know. The exact ways in which things have changed are only just beginning to take shape. What we do know is that workers who can carry out their job functions online and on computers expect a higher degree of flexibility than before.
In a Slack survey of over 9,000 knowledge workers (workers whose duties can primarily be done on a computer), 72% of respondents said they are hoping for a mix of remote and office work moving forward. This is known as a hybrid working model.
Flextime and compressed workweeks are also playing on the minds of global workers. In a recent YouGov UK survey, 40% of respondents indicated an interest in flextime, while 19% said they would try a compressed workweek.
Less commuting, fewer expenses, and a chance at better work-life balance are likely motivating factors for those who say they’d like to retain some of their work-from-home privileges post-COVID.
And companies are listening. In early 2021, Citigroup’s CEO revealed that most of their company’s workforce would be designated as hybrid, with an expectation of at least three in-office attendance days per week. In the same vein, Spotify has announced a “distributed first” policy that takes into account “increased sustainability, flexibility, and well-being to ensure that all of our employees, regardless of ability or situation, can work comfortably and efficiently.”
Of course, this isn’t the case universally. Many companies are eager for employees to return to pre-COVID workplace norms, meaning that the future of flexible working post-COVID will not be a uniform experience.
Building a flexible work schedule
Building a flexible work schedule presents an opportunity to adjust your routine in a way that works for you and your productivity. You understand your productivity the best, so take advantage of that knowledge when considering a change in work routine.
Tips for creating a flexible work schedule:
In a society obsessed with productivity and output, it can be tempting to create a schedule that prioritizes work over balance. Trying to compress your 40-hour workweek into three days, for example, could lead to burnout and poor job performance. Be realistic with yourself and your employer when discussing changes to your work schedule.
Ask for exactly what you need and be ready to negotiate
There’s no point asking for less than what you need. If your circumstances mean you need flextime or a hybrid schedule, then ask for flextime or hybrid in-office attendance. While your workplace may have a specific flexible work schedule policy in place, there may be room for discussion and compromise.
Try techniques like time blocking to stay on track
Flexible working may mean that you have to explore new ways to structure your day or week. Time blocking, task batching, and time batching are just a few ways to approach that. For example, if flexible working means you’re in the office two days a week, you may designate those as your “project meeting” days to go over progress and project roadblocks. Other “day themes” can include professional development days, writing days, networking days, etc.
A change in your company’s flexible work schedule policy may mean that your team is dispersed during critical projects and assignments. Over-communicating about things like your adjusted work schedule, essential deadlines, and other team updates keeps work moving forward at all times.
Remote collaboration tools and software like Wrike increase team visibility on tasks and progress so that it’s always clear who is working on what and when it is due.
Wrike helps address an "always on" culture by optimizing flexible working
Flexible working is the future of work. It has long been the case for the youngest members of the labor market that work isn't a “place” but rather “a thing.” That means that work tools need to be accessible, flexible, and robust to handle the challenges that come with an increasingly dispersed workforce.
The answer to our "always on" culture isn’t to herd workers back to the office en masse to resume their hour-long commutes and 9–5 structures. The answer lies in creating flexible work policies that acknowledge the realities of our modern workforce.
Wrike helps companies establish digital workspaces for employees that are collaborative, transparent, productive, and flexible. Whether hybrid working is in your team’s future or if you’re exploring adjusted hours and flextime, Wrike meets you where you are. Try a free two-week trial of Wrike to join the 2 million users who are already building the future of work.