Company Culture

Workplace flexibility: Is your company doing it wrong?

It can boost productivity and reduce burnout, and it's all the rage right now. But what does it mean, really? Jess Podgajny of HR tech startup LLUNA breaks it down.

Hey, if it helps productivity.

(Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels)

Alongside remote work, increased flexibility is probably the biggest workplace shift of the COVID-19 era. But what does it mean, exactly, and what are companies getting wrong about it?

“Back in the day, when we thought about flexibility, it meant can you work from home sometimes,” said Jess Podgajny, CEO of employment management platform LLUNA, in an Introduced interview. “Since the pandemic hit and the world changed forever, I think we’ve seen this definition of flexibility really expand.

What does that look like now? Flexibility still relates to schedule or work location, the CEO said — your boss likely doesn’t care if you join a Zoom call from your sister’s house in Boise — but it’s also about perks, benefits and professional development opportunities.

In this expanded view of flexibility, every person’s experience is different, depending on their wants and needs at the time. And those wants and needs could change in six months.

“That’s the challenge from the employer standpoint — trying to put a hard and fast definition in place because it is so fluid,” Podgajny said. “We really do need to think about how flexibility can evolve with our workforce as they evolve.”

Communication is key

As with many things in life, good communication is important, especially if your company is looking to “make flexibility more flexible.”

“It all comes back to listening to your employees,” Podgajny said. “If you lead a team, talk to your team: Do they feel like they can do what they need to do in life and also accomplish what they need to accomplish at work? The outcomes still need to happen.”

The old view that employees must always give 40 hours a week is changing as concepts of flexibility evolve.

“Maybe I get it done in 32 [hours], maybe somebody else gets it done in 50,” she said. “We need to deliver the outcomes based on what our role has defined for us. But ultimately, if you as a leader sit down with your team and say, ‘What would make this easier for you, what would make this better, what would make you feel more supported?’ — you have the capability to really unlock more from your team.”

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Solutions may include shifting an employee’s work hours, compressing their workweek (hi, four-day trend) or even offering access to a mentor to help them plot their career growth.

Back flexibility with structure

Offering employees flexibility doesn’t mean turning your workplace into the Wild West.

“You don’t have to be everything to everyone — that’s chaos,” Podgajny said. “Do whatever you want. A free-for-all would be overwhelming for any leader to try to implement. Structure really is the key to flexibility. I talk a lot about structured flexibility that creates the opportunity to scale and to set really clear and transparent expectations between employer and employee. It also is a way to be more inclusive, because you’re saying, ‘I recognize you’re not cookie-cutter, I’m offering you these choices.'”

When you achieve balance, everybody wins, because employees will be able to deliver the results you want in a way that keeps them people happier, better supported, less burnt out and more engaged.

Many inflexible policies can be made flexible

Your company, especially if it’s well-established, may have workplace policies that remain in place simply because it’s the way it’s always been done. And change is hard.

“There’s typically room for some level of flexibility and choice in every policy that’s been created,” Podgajny said. “If we think of policies more as guidance and less as rules, we can start to see more of an opportunity to say, ‘OK, well, generally we want people in the office three days a week; we’re not going to tell you which days but you need to align with your team.'”

Even if, at the end of the day, everyone decides to come in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, having the choice can lead to happier employees.

“There’s something psychologically that just gets empowered as a result of approaching it with a more flexible mindset,” she said.

Experiment to find what works

The future of work is about testing and learning, not having all the answers. Think of policy changes as iterations of an ever-changing experiment.

“Have a discussion about ‘How would you spend your time differently if you could, if you had permission to do something different with your time, what would it look like?’ Then try to implement that choice or that opportunity for your team,” Podgajny said. “Maybe for a couple of weeks you give everybody the chance to compress their work week to four nine hour days and one half day, or you get everybody connected with a peer mentor within your team. And you try it out and you see if it’s an effective and valuable way to be spending our time.

“If not, you can try something different, but at least you’re testing and learning and evolving to what your workforce is.”

Watch the full conversation here:

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