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The proliferation of remote work during the global pandemic proved that working from home is a viable workplace model with little downside. Yet, businesses continue to encourage or even require their employees to return to the office — often to their own detriment. For instance, PwC’s Pulse Survey: Cautious to Confident found that 64% of executives agree that their company needs as many people back on-site as possible.
As remote work continues to top employees’ wish lists, it’s clear that many business leaders need to do a better job of embracing a culture of flexibility in their organizations to retain and attract workers.
Employees continue to demand workplace flexibility
According to our Global Workforce Survey, today’s workers crave (and need) variety in how they work. Nearly two-thirds say they prefer a mix of in-person and remote work. This flexibility sits at the core of job satisfaction. Only 45% of in-person employees say they are satisfied with their job, compared to 50% of hybrid employees and 63% of fully-remote workers.
Maintaining connectivity and culture is important, but inflexibility risks breeding resentment. While 26% of people in PwC’s survey would prefer full-time remote work, only 18% said their employer is likely to adopt that model. Only 11% of employees prefer full-time in-person work, but 18% say their employer is likely to require them to go into the office every day.
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Workforce agility is critical to competing in a highly fluid and competitive marketplace. Organizations, therefore, need to both respond to employee expectations and put their workers in a position to perform at a high level. Otherwise, they may face high turnover, low productivity and a loss of business agility.
A workplace strategy that benefits the organization and employees
It’s clear that most employers still have not perfected a new way of working in the post-pandemic world, a way that addresses benefits for both employees and the company. Leading organizations, however, are embracing a culture of flexibility in the workplace by implementing policies and tools that meet employees where they are. Success in this new hybrid model requires engaging employees and giving them a sense of personalization and ownership in how they work.
Here are four strategies for business leaders to enable a culture of workforce flexibility that benefits the organization and employees.
1. Offer personalized flexibility
Workplace flexibility isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. People have different needs, workstyles and preferences for how they work, and personalization helps put people in the best position to succeed. Giving workers the power to work in a way that best suits them provides a sense of responsibility and incentive to perform.
Some people may need to work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to handle child care or other personal responsibilities. Others may feel that they’d perform better in a four-day workweek. Some may opt to give up some salary for more vacation or personal days. Flexibility allows people to work how they want and when they want in the most optimal manner.
Meanwhile, don’t forget the power of connectivity and coaching that happens in person. Some people simply don’t know what they’re missing. Making it real for them by bringing teams together regularly and using connectivity as an in-person incentive can help make the value clear.
2. Lay out the rules in advance
Whatever people’s individual needs and preferences, it’s up to managers and business leaders to determine whether it’s in the organization’s best interests to let people personalize how they work. This requires open communication channels among managers, employees and HR as well as formal plans around in-person, remote and hybrid working.
People need to know what the job expectations are regardless of how they choose to work, and managers need to know where the boundaries lie. Clear rules of engagement need to be laid out, formalized and communicated to stakeholders, along with clear accountabilities.
3. Empower different work styles with advanced tools for collaboration and connectivity
A flexible workforce is only as effective as its toolset. Wherever they work, employees need to be armed with tools that allow them to effectively connect to corporate resources and collaborate with colleagues, customers and partners.
We need to go beyond video conferencing to give people interactive tools such as whiteboarding, real-time polling and the ability to break into teams. Remote employees need office-like connectivity, so they are able to work how they expect without latency or bandwidth issues. And people who work in the office shouldn’t be left out either. A complete rethinking of how offices and shared spaces are laid out can entice people to come into the office more and be more productive.
4. Encourage growth and career advancement
Every employee should feel challenged in their role and want to grow their career with the company. Upskilling and opportunities for advancement are great ways to retain and attract employees. Investing in people through learning and development programs enhanced by recognition, badging and incentives creates the type of work environment people can get excited about.
High performers crave opportunities that challenge and excite them. It’s just a matter of giving them opportunities to excel and demonstrate what they can do.
Put people in a position to excel
Hybrid work models are not going away. Retaining and attracting productive workers requires flexibility in how they work and empathy from business leaders regarding what the “new normal” looks like for employees. Business leaders have an opportunity to step up and encourage workforce flexibility — working with employees to give them the opportunities, processes and tools they need to do their jobs well and deliver the classic win-win.
Joe Atkinson is chief products and technology officer at PwC US
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