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Flexibility as part of remote workplace culture: What does it really mean?

Flexibility as part of remote workplace culture: What does it really mean?

Aug 30, 2023

5 mins read

Employee Experience

There’s been a lot of buzz about flexibility in the workplace, but if you ask managers what that means, you’ll probably get a wide variety of answers. 

That’s what happened with Harvard Business Review asked leaders what flexibility at their workplace looked like. The responses ran the gamut which led researchers to understand that making flexibility a core part of an organization’s strategy, operations, and workplace culture was much more intensive. And because of this, most companies approach this task from a superficial standpoint. 

As Bob Helbig noted in his Washington Post piece about this topic, flexibility in the workplace is a mindset. And when companies are able to adopt that, the focus is on productivity, versus where and when work is actually done. 

According to Harvard Business Review, companies who tout flexibility as part of their workplace culture use two approaches: 1) Accommodation, which is often implemented as a one-off response to certain situations; and 2) Boundaryless working, which allows employees to work anywhere, anytime. While this approach has afforded companies (and employees) many benefits, it also puts the flexibility onus on employees, which can lead to overwork and an out-of-whack work-life balance. 

Read more: What does workplace engagement look like in a remote or hybrid setting?

So, what does true flexibility actually look like as part of a remote workplace culture? 

It’s a top-to-bottom approach. 

That means it starts with executives and leaders listening to their teams, and then creating policies that support this.

“The company provides the scaffolding — flexibility options, equipment, and supportive performance-management systems — and individual employees and teams decide how to organize their work within it.”

Harvard Business Review

Helbig offers a helpful list of workplace flexibility best practices that can guide employers as they craft a flexible workplace policy.

It’s available to everyone. 

While the same type of flexibility may not work for every employee, every employee should be afforded the option of some flexibility within their position. 

For some, this might mean paid family leave or the option for an earlier start time. For others, this might mean shorter work weeks or working from home (or at an on-demand coworking space) for some days of the week. 

The Harvard Business Review shared five different types of flexibility (Schedule, Place, Continuity, Workload, and Mode) as a way to guide employers to create workplace culture policies that truly address the various flexibility options that might be available and for which employees each might be best suited. And to be fair, companies don’t necessarily need to offer all of these types of flexibility options to all of their employees. In fact, some may not be at all feasible for certain employees. But to know that there are myriad options that can be deployed appropriately is a solid first step. 

It’s about the bottom line. 

There’s been a longstanding belief that having workers in a physical office during a certain time of the day made them more productive. But we know now, after countless studies, that this assumption is not actually the case. A 2019 study by Airtasker found that over 65% of the surveyed workers felt more productive outside of the office. 

Another study showed that 40% of remote workers actually ended up working longer hours, but still had a better work-life balance than they did when in a physical office. 

This is not to suggest that you need to transition your team to remote or hybrid. But this is to say that if your goal is productivity, employee engagement, and a positive remote workplace culture where you are attracting talent with long-term dedication, true flexibility is a viable option. It just requires reconfiguring the way we look at “the office” and taking strategic approaches to implement what that looks like as part of your company’s remote workplace culture.