Flexibility seems to be the word on everyone's lips. Whether it's talent looking for more flexibility or companies offering it, it’s becoming increasingly important for workplaces to enable the lifestyle choices their employees want, or need, to make.
As a (relatively!) new dad, I know what it’s like to have to balance work and family life. Flexible working has proven to be a lifesaver. Personally, it's great to be able to do my job wherever and whenever I can; whether that’s at the office or from my laptop at home.
I learned some valuable lessons as I entered the world of flexible work. It changed the way I approach my job, and as we approach an era of increased flexibility in the workforce, I started to question the existing boundaries between work life and home life, and how I could ultimately merge the two to gain a better work-life balance. For the most part, it tends to come down to one question.
"Do I Need to be in the Office to Perform This Role?"
I know a number of people who work in the real estate industry, which is very results based, and I have often asked myself: does it matter whether this person is in the office or not? While cutting yourself off completely isn't a great idea, I believe the 9-5 mindset doesn't need to exist in many roles and is increasingly being weeded out.
Take my current role as an example. I'm in the office from 7-4, and during this time I ensure that I get everything done that requires me to liaise with other people. It could be internal, sales or speaking with clients or candidates. The rest can be done from home in my own time, but the key is that I get to come in earlier and leave earlier, giving me the evening to spend at home with my family.
Another example is a friend of mine who works for a large mining company. His wife is a lawyer and worked from home for six months to look after their child. The flexibility meant that she didn't have to choose between her career or her family; instead she could have both. After that, my friend’s workplace enabled him to take the next six months off to spend time at home with their child.
Flexibility can manifest itself in many forms and has clear benefits. A culture that offers employees the time to fulfil the responsibilities that are important to them, and the trust and respect to use it freely, is ultimately going to be the kind of place that people stick around in – and we all know how important company culture is to success.
Another point to consider is the fact that we may not be working productively for the entire eight hour period we're at work. There are plenty of people who are night owls, or who may prefer more short shifts as opposed to fewer long ones. At the end of the day, even if you're doing an executive level role, the measurement that matters is results. If you can achieve the same or better results without being restricted to a 9-5, isn't it worth pursuing?
Not only that, but from a recruitment perspective, if you offer more flexible working conditions your candidate pool becomes significantly larger. Not everyone can, or wants to, work 9-5. For example, candidates returning to work after parental leave or due to illness/injury; they may be a perfect fit skills-wise, but still require a degree of flexibility. Whatever the reason, more and more candidates are looking for flexibility in their work, and businesses are following suit.
Thinking Outside the Box
If flexibility is something that you’re investigating or looking to implement, it’s important to remember that flexible working doesn't have to just mean working from home. We need to think outside the box and get more creative in providing solutions that better reflect employees’ unique situations. Perhaps you're hiring for a job that has a history of people suffering from burn out, so consider splitting the role between two people. For instance, one company hired two CEOs, both working three days a week and sharing duties. It might seem extreme, but if it gets the results who's going to argue?
Flexibility can be present in all aspects of company culture. For instance, a client of ours on the Gold Coast has a 'board' meeting every Friday morning that doubles as a surfing trip. It's just one example of lifestyle, flexibility, and team bonding intersecting.
Perhaps it’s time to review and rework policies on parental leave? The world doesn't look the way it did 20 years ago. We now have access to a myriad of different technologies that we can use to collaborate without being face-to-face; for example, video-conferencing into board meetings with Skype or working on the same document together via Google Docs. Working from home – or for that matter, from an entirely different part of the world – in most cases, with a little flexibility, no longer presents a barrier.
We’ve also changed socially and culturally too. Fathers are opting to be the primary caregiver, or at least be equally involved, more often than ever before, as opposed to the strict family dynamic that many of us would have grown up with. Does your company have policies in place that reflect the world we live in? And what is the reaction within the company when people request flexible working? Are they viewed as less of an employee? If so, then perhaps some cultural change is needed.
Instituting flexible working practices requires an open mindedness and willingness to change. It's an innovative step, and the possibilities are endless. Only time will tell if the 9-5 is really dead – after all, flexible work isn't for everyone. Some people will always prefer being in the office in a structured environment. However, whether you’re an employee or employer it may well be worth considering, especially if gets results.