Designing Organizations for Flexibility in our Changing World

Flexibility has become the cornerstone for success in today’s rapidly changing world. But what exactly is flexibility? And why is it so important for leaders as we navigate COVID-19? Below is a look at the benefits of a flexible work environment and the single most important step you can take to achieve organizational flexibility in today’s rapidly changing world.

What are the benefits of a flexible work environment?

“Even in the absence of a pandemic, flexible work arrangements can improve recruitment and retention efforts, augment organizational diversity efforts, encourage ethical behavior and help the organization’s efforts to be socially responsible.” – Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Before embarking on the journey to organizational excellence, it is helpful to understand exactly how a flexible work environment can benefit your business moving forward. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) outlines how flexible work arrangements serve as a strategic management solution that offer the following advantages:

  • Improved employee retention
  • Greater recruitment success
  • Reduced hiring and training expenses
  • Enhanced employee productivity
  • A more diverse workforce
  • Increased employee engagement

What is the best way to introduce flexibility to an organization?

Transforming your organization from structured to flexible requires dedication, transparency, and a positive mindset from employees at all levels. While every organization has its own unique set of needs, there are some key steps that can help organizational leaders within every industry introduce flexibility to their businesses:

Step One: Secure leadership buy-in within your organization

Organizations that are models of flexibility are known for having leaders who practice what they preach on a daily basis. From the C-Suite to middle management, to team supervisors, all organizational leaders understand and embrace the concept of a flexible work environment. This top-down approach helps to ensure that all employees are on the same page.

Step Two: Encourage employees to embrace change

“In overcoming resistance to change and building support for change, leaders need to communicate an appealing vision of change in combination with a vision of continuity.” – Merlijn Venus, Daan Stam, and Daan van Knippenberg, Harvard Business Review

For many senior leaders, this step is the most challenging to complete – especially if a large percentage of the workforce is accustomed to a highly structured work environment. One way to encourage employees to embrace change is to follow three measures:

  • First, outline the current challenges facing employees and your organization as a whole
  • Second, clearly explain the benefits of a flexible work environment (the proposed change) and how it can help overcome challenges
  • Third, describe the positive aspects that will stay the same for employees to provide reassurance to employees

It is this third measure that is critical to alleviating uncertainty and ensuring that change is welcomed by as many employees as possible. Specifically,
effective change leadership should emphasize how the organization will preserve its central identity as changes unfold.

Step Three: Introduce flexible work hours

The demand for flexible work hours continues to grow among Americans. Survey research indicates that 88 percent of employees long for flexibility with their work schedules. However, the percentage of businesses offering flexible work hours lags far behind at just over 60 percent. 

If your organization is among those that doesn’t offer flexible scheduling, then now is a good time to map out a plan that will delight your current and prospective employees. There is no single “right way” to introduce flexible work hours. The options you offer should reflect the nature of your business and the needs of your employees. For some organizations, this might mean adopting a four-day workweek, where employees have the option of working four ten-hour days for the fifth day off. Or it might look like flexible daily hours, where some employees clock in from 7 to 3 or 8 to 4 and others may work from 9 to 5 or 10 to 6. 

Step Four: Engage remote workers

At the start of 2021, the majority of Americans were working remotely to avoid contracting COVID-19. Many of these employees are expected to continue to work remotely at least some of the time.

Responsiveness and engagement are critical among employees who work remotely or who perform their roles outside of peak business hours. Some of the best ways to keep remote workers engaged include virtual meetings, regular communication by phone or email, and periodic video conferencing, either social or business-related. Finally, you can show remote workers you value them by seeking their input on projects and by rewarding them for a job well done.

Step Five: Approach setbacks with an open mind

Transitioning to a more flexible work environment is not always a seamless process. It’s normal to encounter glitches and obstacles that can temporarily derail your progress. To successfully overcome these setbacks, you and your employees must anticipate them and approach them with an open mind. You may wish to include your employees in discussions to develop strategies for overcoming challenges. After all, your employees are on the front lines of your organizations and often have valuable feedback that can prove to be instrumental in helping leadership conquer problems.

The key to achieving flexibility

We now live and work in an era that demands adaptability. It is up to today’s business owners and operators to ensure that their organizations have the flexibility to fully utilize their employees’ talents regardless of the circumstances that may unfold. This ability to adapt through flexibility will propel forward-thinking businesses to the top of their industries.

The key to achieving flexibility in today’s changing world is to invest in a customized leadership coaching system. Sounding Board offers a cloud-based coaching platform that is tailored to meet the specific needs of your business, as a leader, you can be sure that flexibility is introduced seamlessly across all levels and departments within your organization. Our coaches will help you lead with flexibility – according to your own personalized goals – and ensure that your organization maintains its competitive edge in this ever-changing world.

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