Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Eurofound estimations have shown that about 50% of all Europeans engage in the workforce ,at least partially,remotely, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to this, working from home has become a widespread alternative to office “nine-to-fives”, considering the previous 12% of all Europeans who worked remotely before the pandemic.1 Remote work became a polemical topic, gaining lots of popularity when the pandemic hit back in 2020. One of the main reasons that remote work has gained this vast amount of popularity is the fact that it enables the individual to have some type of flexibility in terms of work. Working remotely has gained a lot of attention lately and is one of the various aspects of workplace flexibility, which’s significance will be discussed in the following.
Workplace flexibility has a big impact on e.g. mental health and wellness, burnout and stress reduction, as well as boosting productivity. A flexible workplace can be created in providing flexible work shifts, shifting arrival and departure times, part-time employment options, shared employment options or unlimited paid time off.2 It doesn’t only meet the employees needs, it also considers the employers wishes since it boosts the employee`s productivity through giving them the opportunity to do their job in a way that suits their lifestyle and responsibilities best.2
“The ability of workers to make choices influencing when, where and for how long they engage in work related tasks”3
Definition of working flexibility
But how can you provide a flexible workplace as an employer?
Firstly, having a flexible mindset is the base for creating a flexible workspace: accepting that traditional office hours or responsibilities are going to be replaced through condensed workweeks or job sharing.4 Small steps like starting a discussion about flexible working, being clear about business objectives or encouraging creativity are the key to a more flexible workspace.4 Flexible schedules improve the work-life balance, which can be achieved by offering Flextime, which means that employers offer to stagger arrival and departure times as necessary.4 As well as Telecommuting, which means that employees can work from home, and condensed schedules, where the traditional five-day week is being replaced with a shorter period of time for the same amount of work, which provides additional off-days for the employee.4 This can be achieved by e.g. offering four 10 hours work-days.3 A flexible workplace can mean a lot to parents, who are able to take either paid or unpaid vacations through remaining on permanent contracts (Term-time work).2 If it is possible for employers, they could offer unlimited PTO, unlimited paid time off, which takes a lot of pressure from the employees, because they still get paid when getting sick.2Employers can also contribute to improving the workplace flexibility through offering employees to select between one or more worksite locations through e.g. periodically/seasonally changing the worksite locations, if there is more than a single worksite.3
In addition to that, the office space can also impact work flexibility: based on the thought to let employees have the autonomy to choose where and when to do their best work4.There is a way to create an office which meets these criteria, like the following example:
Flexible workspaces, like the above collaboration hub, give employees the option to work in different areas depending on their needs.
How can employees be flexible in the workplace and what skills are required?
Taking small steps like slowly increasing the amount of days working remotely or listening carefully to constructive criticism as part of a performance review5 can help employees becoming more flexible. Moreover, employees can offer to cover the responsibilities of a colleague while they are ill or on vacation5 to get to know the concept of job-sharing. Furthermore employees can offer to work extra hours during a year- end crunch5 or simply helping a colleague out, which improves the relationship within the team and encourages colleagues to do the same as well as it creates a supportive work-environment4. As an employee it is important to communicate expectations and fears to create a flexible workspace4, which means that, if e.g. certain routines at work are causing anxiety or a unhealthy amount of stress, one should communicate that with the employer to find a better solution.
Both, employers and employees, benefit from having a flexible workplace:
Studies have shown that employees show a high working motivation and responsibility in return to having the freedom to choose how, where and when they work. Employees are likely to take fewer sicker days than their office based colleagues and are more satisfied than them, which shows a study by Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom.4In addition to that, the concept of shaping their workday around personal obligations can attract many young talents, millennials, who`s top priority is workplace flexibility (92%).4Satisfied employees show an increased productivity, engagement and loyalty, since they have more time to e.g. prioritize their families or enjoy that office based stress related issues fall off.2
A cross-sectional study on the impact of employees` remote work productivity, engagement and stress showed that self-leaderhsip and autonomy were positive related to working from home.1 The study included 209 employees with an average age of 49.81 years (71.3% women and 28.7% men), who 91.9% of them haven’t been working from home before the COVID-19 pandemic.1 Results show that it is important to improve employees` personal work management skills, such as employees’ time-management skills and the development of self- leadership behavior to decrease the perception of family-work conflict.1 Those training interventions can improve the employees’ self-observation strategies and help developing skills related to remote work.1
The significance of flexibility on the workplace and the positive effects that can exist between work and other domains are being shown in this figure by a study on defining and conceptualizing workplace flexibility by E.J.Hill et al.:3
SOURCE: E.Jeffrey Hill, et.al. “Defining and conceptualizing workplace flexibility” (May 2008), Article in Community Work & Family.
It can be shown that workplace flexibility is not only influencing work-life fit (F), which refers to the individuals`s assessment of their ability to integrate paid work and family life3, but also the four vitality outcomes: individual vitality (G), home and family vitality (H), workplace vitality (I) and community vitality (J). 3 The amount of workplace flexibility is directly influenced by characteristic antecedents (A,B,C,D): individual characteristics (A) e.g. age or gender, home and family characteristics (B),e.g. partner status, workplace characteristics (C) and community characteristics (D),like infrastructure and social relationships. 3
A study by Jacob,Bond,Galinsky and Hill about the relationship between six critical ingredients in creating an effective workplace and three job outcomes (job engagement, job satisfaction and employee retention) and one employee outcome (mental health) shows, that they were positively related to an employee`s mental health:
SOURCE: JACOB, BOND, GALINSKY, AND HILL, “Six Critical Ingredients in Creating an Effective Workspace” (2008), Faculty Publications
This table shows not only that, employees with a higher responsibility through greater decision-making involvement, coworker support or a flexible workplace are more likely to be more engaged with their jobs6, but also that employees with a higher extent of workplace flexibility show a higher mental health (35%) in comparison to the employees with a low extent of workplace flexibility (19%).6
“Flexibility is one of the most powerful drivers of retention and engagement today . . . it is empirically linked to higher levels of productivity, resilience and shareholder value . . . yet achieving workplace flexibility is the most difficult task the work life professional engages in, and success often requires an organization to reinvent its culture.”
 T.Galanti, et.al. “The Impact on Employees’ Remote Work Productivity, Engagement, and Stress” (20/04/2021), Public Health Emergency Collection
3 E.Jeffrey Hill, et.al. “Defining and conceptualizing workplace flexibility” (May 2008), Article in Community Work & Family
4 Steve Hogarty, “What is flexibility in the workplace?”(02/03/2021), https://www.wework.com/ideas/professional-development/management-leadership/flexibility-in-the-workplace
5 Alison Doyle, “What is Workplace Flexibility?”(06/07/2020), https://www.thebalancecareers.com/workplace-flexibility-definition-with-examples-2059699
6 JACOB, BOND, GALINSKY, AND HILL, “Six Critical Ingredients in Creating an Effective Workspace” (2008), Faculty Publications