“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it." —Lao Tzu
Flexibility is a very valuable quality that enables us to respond to unforeseen events swiftly and elegantly. It is simple to feel stressed and anxious when unforeseen circumstances occur, like what the world went through during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because there is a sense that things are out of our control. As we face the future of work post-pandemic, employers all across the globe are looking for ways to accommodate more flexible ways in both how and where we choose to work, especially in fast-moving and dynamic industries where the ability to respond quickly to unpredictable situations and rapidly changing expectations are a valuable asset.
Being flexible begins with a change in mindset—the ability to anticipate changes before they happen and prepare action plans to rise to the occasion comes with training yourself to accept the fact that changes, both expected and unexpected, will occur. Sudden changes are stressful, but when we brace ourselves for possible changes, we can position ourselves in order to pivot better and faster when the situation presents itself.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders have been forced to adapt to these changes during the pandemic by providing options for flexible work schedules. Faced with pushback on sudden returns to office mandates, higher turnover, and more employees than ever experiencing burnout, we need to seriously take into consideration some of these work shift structures that might reshape the way we work.
At the height of COVID-19, widespread lockdowns, remote work arrangements were the norm. As these lockdowns fizzled out, hybrid structures emerged as a way to compromise between employers who want to call back their employees to work on-site and workers who demand more flexibility to work from home (or anywhere).
A flexible workplace encourages a flexible mindset among employees. It helps boost their creativity and increases their job satisfaction, which can boost productivity. When employees have the freedom to choose where they work, they are free to find a space where they can think and do their best work. Plus, they are in a better position to accommodate their personal lives as necessary.
Of course, remote and hybrid work also come with their own set of drawbacks, but the freedom over where we work helps a lot of workers manage their stress, find new ways to collaborate, and achieve better harmony in their personal and professional lives.
Employees who have flexibility over when they work are better able to fit their lifestyles while still succeeding at work, especially those who have children or caregiver responsibilities. Non-traditional work shifts help improve their overall quality of life and well-being.
Companies and countries also participated in a trial run for non-traditional work schedules to determine whether they are more productive and sustainable, both economically and from a human resource perspective. Some of the non-traditional work arrangements that gained some traction are the following:
The four-day work week has been an idea thrown around even before the pandemic, but it gained some steam during the lockdown.
The rampant rise in burnout cases among workers has become a serious concern, and countries like Spain, the UK, and Iceland have encouraged wide scale trial runs of four-day work weeks. The results? Aside from a happier, more well-rested workforce, productivity is more or less the same, if not higher, than the traditional 9-to-5 work shifts for five days a week.
That is, if the standard workweek is reduced from 40 to 32 hours. A lot of studies show that compressed work weeks, where employees work longer to squeeze in 40 hours in four days, have some negative impact on employee overwork, possibly caused by fatigue from 10-hour shifts per day.
As Parkinson’s law tells us, work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. The results of these trial runs support that idea, and a third of businesses expect the four-day workweek to become a reality, if not the norm, in the next decade.
However, there is still so much to figure out about this work structure, with some companies deciding to cut their work hours from 32 to 36 hours a week, and some employers not too keen on paying workers the same amount for fewer hours at work.
The four-day work week demonstrated that productivity can be maintained despite shorter hours, leading some experts to suggest a shorter work day as a substitute.
According to studies, the sweet spot for maximizing productivity while minimizing work hours appears to be six hours per day, which would lead to an even shorter work week (30 hours).
Studies show that employees tend to be more engaged and productive when they don’t need to work long hours. In fact, countries like Norway and Denmark are among those with fewer work hours per week but rank 2nd and 7th, respectively, among the most productive countries globally.
Shortening work hours, according to psychologists, encourages employees to prioritize better and concentrate more on tasks that are important. It also reduces busy work that managers assign and pointless meetings, enhancing overall efficiency, time management, and productivity while lowering employee stress and fatigue.
Traditional work schedules have trained us to expect work in 8-hour time blocks, usually from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, not every day is equal—on some days we find we have more on our plates while we have too much free time on others.
Non-linear workdays enable employees to choose the working hours that best suit their daily responsibilities. Arrangements can be made to have employees’ work schedules coincide with their coworkers’ and bosses’ schedules, but they are free to shape close-focus work as they need.
This allows workers, especially in the knowledge and creative industries, to work when they are most productive and least distracted by their other life priorities. When motivation, inspiration, and focus are at their highest, creative work, in particular, is best completed in adaptable and optimal environments. This is especially helpful for working parents with small kids—they are able to devote more time to their children and be fully present both at home and in their careers.
For global companies with employees across different time zones, the bulk of their workforce often works synchronized hours. The pandemic has made it possible for employees to work asynchronous shifts, regardless of whether those shifts conflict with those of their coworkers or not.
This is great for jobs where employees work autonomously and job sharing or real-time collaboration is not necessary.
Asynchronous work shifts expand employees’ options for where to live, and new collaborative software and documentation practices have made it possible.
Flexibility is crucial to innovation and problem-solving. In order for businesses to be adaptable to sudden change, entrepreneurs need to start looking at possibilities beyond what they know. Agility, especially in today's fast-paced world, is only achieved when we are ready for what we initially believe to be absurd. What has been effective for decades may not necessarily continue to be effective forever.
Being prepared for a variety of situations, being adaptable and accepting of the unexpected when it happens, and being ready to act and change as necessary are the keys to flexibility.
What about you? What are some possible changes you foresee in the future of work?
Thanks for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”