While the practice of flexible work has been gaining momentum for decades, the decision to mandate social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 among workers made it necessary. The new ways of working created a shift in employee attitudes toward work. For many, the change to remote and flexible work, especially working from home, gave them new flexibility and freedom they're unwilling to surrender.
In today's talent market, being able to offer flexible working has become an essential part of the job offer if you want to attract the best talent.
For businesses, it wasn't so straightforward. Employers rushed into making accommodations, but few had plans in place. Since then, HR teams have been working hard to establish effective processes for maintaining flexible working, but too many are in a reactive frame of mind, or, even worse, a controlling posture.
In this article, we'll discuss how work can be flexible and how to create a framework that allows employees and their leaders to agree on the structure.
The Flexible Work Schedule
When we define a flexible work schedule, we usually discuss only when the employee works, not where or how the work is done. Workers start and end work when they want, but must deliver services during certain core hours. It can be full-time or part-time.
But flexible work means much more, including:
- Compressed workweeks (usually four days).
- Customized working hours
- Alternative scheduling
- Choosing where to work
- Part-time positions
- Job sharing
- Extra paid time off
The Compressed Workweek
Working fewer days per week isn't a new concept, but there haven't been large-scale trials to measure its impact until recently. Manufacturers have experimented with a four-day, 40-hour workweek, with mixed results.
Adoption is speeding up. The State of California and these 31 companies adopted 32-hour four-day work weeks in 2022. It's usually Monday through Thursday, eight hours a day.
In a work culture that embraces longer and longer hours, it's an unwelcome change for top executives. Yet, limited studies have shown it benefits all stakeholders. In the UK, a study of 61 companies showed increased revenue and improved employee well-being.
At the midpoint of the UK trial, a survey returned these results:
- 88% said the four-day work was "working well," and 98% said the transition was smooth. 20% said "very smooth."
- For most, business productivity maintained or improved: 46% said "around the same level," 34% said "improved slightly," and 15% "improved significantly."
- 86% said they would consider continuing the policy after the trial.
The three-day break has proved beneficial for employees and results in improved productivity during work time. We expect it to become the standard.
In 2021, freelancing contributed $50 trillion to the US economy. it grew to $135 trillion in 2023.
We have 73.3 million freelancers in the US this year, contributing over $1.4 trillion to the economy.
We're not surprised. People in the workforce have been saying they want more flexibility, but they want autonomy. Those who will manage their one-person enterprise have it.
Freelancing allows skilled workers to do more and exploit their skills to extract the most value from multiple sources.
It also delivers benefits to those who employ them:
- Access to specialized talent: Freelancers often have specialized skills your employees don't, or the skills may not be available in your labor market.
- Speed and efficiency: Hiring a freelancer can be faster than hiring a full-time employee, especially if it's one you have worked with. It can be a lifesaver if you need the work done immediately.
- Cost savings: Employing freelancers can save you money, as you pay only for the work done. You save more when you need someone with a specific skill but can't justify a full-time position. You save even more because you don't pay taxes on freelancers' income.
- Increased innovation and productivity: A study by Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group found that 40% of businesses reported hiring freelancers helped improve speed to market, boost productivity, and increase innovation.
- Flexibility: You can scale up or down without the pain of rapid hiring and downsizing.
- Time management: Freelancers often manage multiple clients, so they may be more efficient than full-time workers. Plus, you have skills available as needed, but without ongoing costs during slow periods.
However, there can be a downside. An employee turned freelancer can find other clients and take on something else at a critical point. Still, you can overcome problems like this with clear expectations from all stakeholders involved.
With many skilled workers seeing additional value in freelancing today, it may become necessary to use freelancers to access skills required for core business activities.
A more flexible future
Remote working is a part of the future of flexible work, but it has also opened the door to other ideas.
Technology will continue to improve remote work, but a hybrid approach is now the most popular choice. But we should also start preparing for other ideas, like a shorter work week or freelancing becoming more common. Fifty-eight percent of workers who are not freelancers are considering it for the future.
While these ideas may bring challenges, they offer obvious benefits for employees and can also provide advantages for your business with the right planning.
Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.