Is flexible work becoming non-negotiable?

Moving into the future, every organization needs to invest in developing a flexible work model as priorities have evolved and their policies need to reflect that.

Change is the one thing that has remained constant in the nature of work. We can look back as far as we’d like, and we’ll find that changes often stem out of volatility. More recently, pandemic-fuelled rapid digitalization changed the definition of a workplace and what we define as work. According to Akumina’s 2023 Digital Workplace report, over 30% more employees globally demanded flexibility in 2022 compared to the previous year.

Working from the comfort of their home, having ‘workcations’, and saving up on food and travel, simply makes for a more attractive offer. Over 63% of employees are willing to go above and beyond for a company that allows work-flexibility, thereby influencing retention rates.

On the flip-side, businesses report that some employees are facing burnouts far more often, impacting their productivity and miss out on working collaboratively with their team while working remotely. Moreover, with remote work, the boundaries between work hours and personal life could start to blur. So, is this new non-negotiable clause a cause for concern?

Flexible work with right systems

Flexible work goes beyond asking employees to work from anywhere. The question lies in how seamless is it to work from anywhere? A recent report showed that under the guise of flexibility, employees are expected to do more with less but aren’t equipped with the right tools and processes to drive the expected levels of productivity.

Also read: HDFC Bank Kolkata online meeting video of abusing employees bring back focus on work culture

Business leaders need to take aspects such as effectiveness, security and accountability into consideration. Making arrangements for work devices, strong and secure network connections, and easy channels of communications/workflows is key to making flexible work effective. If an employee is working remotely but can barely connect to the internet, it is definitely a cause for concern.

Business leaders also need to ask what kind of projects are employees equipped to handle in remote work environments, versus what requires active team effort? This can help iron out the communication roadblocks associated with working with a large team remotely.

Prioritizing engagement

Flexible work arrangements have the potential to take the traditional 9-5 work day out for a toss. Even without any underlying expectations, employees could be under the impression that they have to reply to emails, finish pending tasks and monitor work-related activities post working hours. With less in-person interactions, work-related conversations can often seem to be lacking in empathy.

The onus, here, lies with managers and human resource professionals to create an open environment where their team feels comfortable speaking to them about any challenges associated with remote work. Business leaders can collaborate with the human resources team to have open dialogues, one-on-one conversations, pulse surveys and forums to appreciate and recognise their team’s contributions.

With scheduled team-building activities, work-life balance related seminars and periodical training, organizations can ensure that the employees are aware of their work culture and don’t miss out on forming connections with their team.

 Values and flexible policies

Employees today want to belong to organizations that reflect, champion, and actively follow their values. And with Gen-Z entering the workforce, these values will often be tested. The new generation of employees, especially ones who started their career from home, have a different approach to work. Being employed, for them, is less about having an occupation and earning a competitive salary–it’s also a core part of their value system. Hence, they often find it difficult to gel into companies with policies that have remained unchanged for years.

As with most rules and regulations, workplace policies also need to be reviewed as often as possible to ensure that they align with their values and that of their employees. Reviewing DE&I policies, ESG initiatives, CSR activities and employee mental health wellbeing programs is crucial to stand out not only as a business that cares about their impact, but also as an equal opportunity employer.

Align with change

With quality of work being prioritized over place of work, employers who value their employees’ needs and offer flexible work arrangements are likely to attract and retain top talent, particularly the new generation workforce. With mass layoffs and ongoing economic headwinds, business leaders need to cultivate values that they can fall back on, something that will represent what their brand inherently stands for.

Going back to pre-pandemic work conditions won’t be attainable if it isn’t accompanied by some level of flexibility. Moving into the future, every organization needs to invest in developing a flexible work model as priorities have evolved and their policies need to reflect that.

According to Kincentric’s Best Employers 2022 study in India, organizations that prioritize employee caring and well-being, foster a strong company culture, promote diversity and inclusion, and build powerful employer brands tend to outperform their peers.

Several businesses have come up with innovative and inclusive employee-friendly policies which is a step in a positive direction. That being said, it is essential to ensure that flexibility does not come at the cost of employee development, career growth and business objectives. It is possible to strike this balance, and those organisations who have set off on this path will create impact and reap rewards for the foreseeable future.

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Sujendra GS

Vice President - Human Resources at Creative Synergies Group

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Sujendra GS

Vice President - Human Resources at Creative Synergies Group

May 2024

Managing Talent - May 2024
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