The Future of Work Demands Flexibility

The pandemic brought new meaning to the word “flexibility,” especially as it applies to work environments. For some, the lockdowns were a refreshing opportunity to reevaluate what systems were (or weren’t) working. But for most–who were left scrambling to implement new technologies and virtually transform their business systems overnight–it was a more significant hurdle to overcome.

As people began to work from home en masse, conversations about work-life balance increased. The lines were blurred between people’s daily routine and their normal office hours. Parents scrambled to get work done between meals, activities with the kids, and household responsibilities. Work flexibility can mean different things to different people. For some, it can look like a hybrid or fully remote schedule, being back in the office every day, or the “work from anywhere at any time” model. Regardless of your business’ workstyle preferences, the pandemic and its aftermath taught us that how we work doesn’t need to fit into any status quo. 

At Zen Media, we’ve always operated in a fully remote fashion, but for years, we were in the minority. Traditionally, companies have adhered to stricter workstyle policies. People had to be at their desks by 8 or 9 a.m., and taking long lunch breaks or leaving the office before 5 p.m. was frowned upon. With government mandates, employee demands, and other looming expectations, corporate America is finding out that there is no “right way” to operate in today’s new work environment. Leaders across different industries are continually reevaluating what flexibility means to them.  

Work Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

Managers and team leaders should do their best to get to know their employees as individuals, so they can better understand their team’s workplace needs. Learning to treat people as individuals–instead of resources–makes a big difference. 

With a variety of individuals making up each team, the one-size-fits-all approach simply isn’t an effective long-term strategy. Martin Birch, CEO of ibml, emphasizes the importance of a flexible approach for his teams. “We spend so much time at work, whether from home or in the office, that it is important to cultivate relationships there. Make sure you care about each employee and try to enable people to actually have fun at work.” Birch’s team heavily focuses on a positive company culture, which can look like many things–allowing employees to work in a way that best suits their needs, for example. Prioritizing flexibility and a positive culture helps them weed out the wrong type of employees, so they can hire (and retain) those who are focused on positive attitudes and outcomes.  

Knowing When to Expand–or Contract  

Whether you’re a small or large business, the ability to grow or shrink your business as necessary is key. This was especially evident during the pandemic when business trajectories were unstable. Tightening budgets and shifting labor pools are constant factors affecting leaders and pressuring them to adapt in real-time.

Businesses can minimize costs by automating services, such as payment processing and client onboarding. Service automation solutions, like those offered by Regpack, enable companies to design flexible payment systems, which not only helps businesses cut unnecessary costs but also ensures a steady flow of revenue, which helps companies operate profitably for customers during trying times. Putting payment and billing functions on autopilot helps leaders focus on what they do best and frees them up to focus on the big picture. 

Create Comfortable Workspaces

For many, the comfort of working from home is hard to beat. Office spaces have to create more comfortable, flexible environments in order to compete. Things like hybrid conference spaces, soundproofed phone or video conferencing booths, and comfortable seating arrangements will draw people from their homes and back into the office. 

Workspaces should be flexible so that the time spent working in person is used to its maximum potential. One furniture company, Haworth, has found that giving people a comfortable yet functional workplace maximizes efficiency in a hybrid work environment. West Michigan is home to the biggest office furniture companies in the world. Johnny Brann Jr., who runs Haworth’s main distributor Interphase Interiors in Grand Rapids says that designing comfortable and functional workspaces has always been a priority for their clients, but since the pandemic, they’ve seen a marked increase in workplaces that are designed with flexibility in mind. 

Flexibility is paramount to employees’ performance and happiness in this next iteration of business. Leaders across industries cannot ignore employees’ needs for more options–from home or in an office space. The future of work is flexible. The leaders who have a firm grasp on this now will do well as it unfolds. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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