Company Culture

What is workplace flexibility?

It’s different for each of us at different times. Pick a philosophy and optimize for it.

Most young professionals do favor some in-person work.

(Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels; photo has been cropped)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink, Technical.ly’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up to get the next one.


The high-end cappuccino machine is always a nice touch.

Tucked away in a pretty glass-paneled conference room last month, I surveyed a tech startup office like I have hundreds of times before. It was, however, my first after a pandemic hiatus. Most of those flitting between their big, wide bench desks and the fully stocked modern kitchen were in their early 20s. Contrary to the stereotype, the CEO told me his youngest staff were the first to return more regularly to his posh downtown office. Surveys show he’s right: Most Gen Z professionals (those born between the late 1990s and the Great Recession) don’t want to work from home permanently.

“A lot of these kids spent the last few years of college doing virtual learning. It’s lonely,” he said. “They want to get their life started — go to an office, be in a few meetings, get some work done and then go hang out with friends.”

That office time comes with rigidity. Company leadership selected three priority days it expects most staff to be in, with the other two optional. “If you don’t coordinate, the office isn’t as active and it defeats the purpose,” he said.

Prognostications on the future of work and visions of the new normal surround us. The vision of young technologists in a tech office sounds oh so 2019. Perhaps though, there is no one future, and if you’re looking for someone else to tell you the one right path forward is, you might likely miss the mark.

“The definition of workplace flexibility is expanding,” said Jess Podgajny, the founder and CEO of LLUNA, an HR tech platform for employers to manage employment arrangements. “It looks different for each person and that evolves over time.”

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Office time could be a salve for a loss of belonging. Late-night hours might be grand for parents. One company may invest the time and resources into making office culture work. Another may pursue a distributed workforce with a soul. An entry-level team and a manager passionate about mentorship might have different views of workplace decorum. A company’s lavish perks might seem to someone else like a smothering overcompensation. One person’s ideal flexible workplace might be another person’s workplace hell, and those views might even change over the course of their careers.

Of course, individual flexibility can become organizational chaos. Podgajny says it takes a framework, not more rules.

“Structure is the key to flexibility,” she said. “Policies as guidance, not rules.”

Great managers make this look easy. Inexperienced ones may struggle. It’s easier with high-performing employees: Just get out of the damn way and remove any obstacles that remain. It’s trickier with a teammate who is struggling to hit goals. When do you stick to a firm deadline, and when do you give an extension; when do you overrule and when do you let them learn for themselves?

As Podgajny put it: “Outcomes still need to be achieved.”

More than ever, she says professionals are asking themselves: “Are you able to accomplish what you want in life and at work also?”

Employers ought to prioritize nurturing environments that get the most out of their employees for as long they’re happy. No organization can be ideal for all — so you shouldn’t strive to be. This is at the core of having a true employee value proposition.

To get there, Podgajny recommends asking direct reports about achieving their goals: “What would make this easier for you? How would you spend your time differently [if you could]?”

That’s how to “unlock more from your team.”

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A few of those young tech workers left their office together, perhaps off to have a drink at a nearby bar. On their way out, they walked by the wall-hung art, funky furniture and that stainless steel cappuccino machine. A cliche scene just a few years back, today it looked positively vintage. Not everyone wants that, but it seems like some still do, and that’s the point.

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