Building a Flexible Workplace Culture

By Natanya Rutstein

Flexibility in the workplace is an essential ingredient for an environment where employee work-life balance can flourish. It is also utilised as a key differentiator by organisations in their quest to entice and retain top talent.

A 2018 Deloitte survey found that millennials are more likely to remain in their jobs for over five years if the company is flexible about when and where they work from. Organisational culture and management are two of the biggest challenges to the successful implementation of workplace flexibility.

Here are some tips to help you in creating a flexible workplace culture:

1 – Set guidelines but remain flexible

The first step is to review your current business systems, processes and roles to determine the viability of various flexibility options. Clear guidelines should then be formalized and communicated to all employees. This will provide the necessary clarity and guidance to both employees and management.  

One of the lessons learned by PwC, and shared in a recent HBR article, is to guard against creating too much formality and structure around flexibility as this can sometimes create obstacles and work against flexibility. At PwC, they believe that to create behaviour change you need to allow for variance, creativity and agility. In other words, you need to be flexible when creating a flexible culture. PwC refers to this as “every day flexibility” and allows teams to decide what suits them best. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, instead flexibility is individualised and personalised.

2 – Equal access 

Flexibility must not be reserved for a privileged few, available only to selected groups and levels of employees. Although it is strongly associated with the gig economy, it is desired by employees across all generations and should be available for all employees to enjoy. Unless all employees are given access to flexible work choices and preferences, an authentic culture of flexibility will fail to take root.

3 – Support and educate your management team

Too often managers struggle to overcome their bias towards workplace flexibility. Managers need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to facilitate a paradigm shift to a different way of thinking. Given the correct tools and support, they will be able to work with employees to find mutually fair and acceptable solutions that provide a balance of work and personal needs whilst insuring performance objectives are met and high-quality work is delivered within agreed time frames.

Instilling a culture of flexibility is an organisational journey which is not made overnight and which will include much trial and error along the way. If you get it right, the rewards reaped can be significant, engendering a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

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