On Mar 03 2022 / by Wyoming Paul

Asking the experts: How to make flexible working succeed for your business

In the same way that parents often wish a baby came with an instruction manual, business leaders are currently having the same feelings about flexible working. Whether your organisation had already adopted some elements of flexibility before the pandemic, or lockdowns threw you into the deep end overnight, it can still be hard to know how to get it right, what you need to think about, and what to prioritise.

We talked to leading experts to get their advice on how to successfully navigate a return to the office, and create a flexible workplace that suits the needs of both your business and your people.

David Shirley is a Partner and Co-Founder of Flex We Are, Australia's leading flexible workplace consultancy, Kalyn Ponti is the CEO of HR services agency Humankind, and Kursty Groves is a workplace strategist and advisor to FTSE 100 companies, high growth SMEs and Government Departments. She is also the founder of Shape, a consulting firm that specialises in co-creating the best places to work.

Here are some of their top tips to help design a hybrid model that works for you, no matter your industry or business size.

Lead by listening

At every step of the process, having open conversations with your people and listening to what they have to say should be your priority. “Involve employees in the design of the plan, and ask them for feedback and input so everyone feels like they have a say and they have context about the decision-making. This is really worth spending the time on,” says Kalyn.

According to a PwC’s Workforce Pulse Survey findings in early 2021, to return to growth, business leaders will need to understand what employees really want and create plans that allow for more flexibility and personalisation.

Talking to your employees about what their individual experience of lockdown has been like and involve them by discussing what they want and need from both the office space and flexible working in general. Having these ongoing conversations will not only create an environment of trust, empathy and empowerment, but will help you design a model that works for everyone.

What bases do you need to cover in these conversations? Here’s what Kursty recommends:

  • Talk to your people about their experiences with the pandemic and flexible working to get a clearer idea of how they feel and what their needs are going forward.
  • Make an effort to talk to and think about employees across all levels of your organisation - the individual, teams, managers, clients, organisation, and the family/household.
  • Use those conversations to map out the different reasons people want to work from home and come into the office, which will help you design the best flexible working model and workspace for your business.
  • Have conversations between your leadership team to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of flexible working, and also how the workplace plays into your organisational strategy for the next few years.
  • Ask for honest feedback on your hybrid model as it develops and keep the open conversations going. This will help you make positive adjustments and iterations.

Play the long game

Instead of trying to find a quick fix, take the time to get clear on your organisational strategy and goals for the next five years. When you know those things, the role of place becomes a lot clearer, as well as giving you a foundation to create new performance metrics for your people that make more sense in a flexible working environment. If you can’t always see your employees, what will be the best ways of measuring if they are getting the job done?

An opportunity to redesign the office

Once you’ve talked to staff and understand what they value and need when coming into the office, you’ll have a much better idea of how to reshape your space to best fit those needs.

Shaking up your working model means shaking up your office. As part of your conversations, talk to people about which parts of their jobs they will be coming into the office to do, and then figure out what your space needs to enable that.

  • If your business chooses to commit to a flexible model, downsizing the office can be a great way to reduce costs, will still meeting staff needs
  • What many people value the most about the office is relationship building and collaboration, so consider having a range of open plan areas and bookable hot desks
  • Other people will be coming in to have meetings in person, or for a quiet and well set up space to have an important virtual meeting. Providing meeting rooms in a variety of sizes plus some beautiful small studio spaces that are specifically designed for those virtual meetings, will tick those boxes.
  • Sometimes, the big office drawcard is simply great facilities. Make working in the office easy with high-speed Wi-Fi and connectivity, as well as things like stations for scanning and printing.

Equip your staff to work from anywhere

Times have changed, and for a lot of roles, basic equipment just doesn’t cut the mustard at home anymore. If you’ve reduced your office costs with more people working remotely, make sure people are well-equipped to do so, by providing good laptops, cameras and microphones.

Get some professional photos taken of your office or reception area and provide those to your staff as virtual meeting backgrounds, or create a personalisable company background similar to an email signature.

Commute hassle, be gone!

In FlexJob’s recent survey of over 2,100 people who worked remotely in the pandemic, 84% of people ranked not having a commute as the top benefit of remote working, and IWG found the commute is the biggest pain point for staff returning to the office. Another survey of over 2,800 Americans across 28 major cities, found that 23% of workers have quit a job because of a bad commute. Princeton University also found that of all activities, the commute to and from work are two of the most negative experiences of the day, and the commute is the third largest reason for people leaving a job.

Making the commuting experience as pain-free as possible will go a long way to boosting employee satisfaction and morale.

“A smarter use of available parking space helps to reduce internal tension and increase the happiness factor in workplaces," says Toby Littin, co-founder and CEO of Parkable.

Using car park management software like Parkable is an easy way to increase workplace happiness and fairness by sharing car parks across the workforce. There’s no need to race for first in first served, no resentment for unused parks, and no stress.

Are perks a priority?

While offering perks like office games and free food definitely is a fast way to provide that feel-good factor, they shouldn’t be your first priority. Focus on creating a great hybrid model that works for your people, before you put any energy into the sexy extras.

However, if you’re saving money by downsizing or going fully remote, David recommends putting some of those savings back into your teams with fun and exciting team get-togethers, whether those are on or off-site. This will help to boost culture and morale while also providing another opportunity for relationship building.

At the end of the day, providing people with the flexibility they want, the tools they need, a commute with as little friction as possible, and an office experience that enables great work to be done, is what will keep your employees the happiest in the long term.

Start flexible, stay flexible

Whatever steps you take and changes you implement, keep it at the forefront of your mind that any flexible working guidelines should remain exactly that - flexible.

As David Shirley from Flex We Are told us, none of this should be written in stone.

“It’s about finding the synergy rather than the compromise, and it needs a lot of conversation and negotiation to occur to find that sweet spot. It takes a lot of ongoing conversation and negotiation to find what works best for your unique organisation, and you’ve got to be flexible with your flexibility.”

Is the time and effort worthwhile? There’s no question about it.