True Flexibility is Key to Success in the Future of Work

By MBO Partners | October 12, 2023

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Key Points

When asked what workplace flexibility means, many leaders may talk about tactics rather than strategy.

True flexibility occurs in a workplace where workers and managers align to meet both performance and life goals.

Companies that only pay lip service to flexibility are likely to be left behind in the future as cutlures and management styles change.

If you ask leaders at your enterprise what “workplace flexibility” means, what would they say? Many answers would probably revolve around ideas like remote/hybrid arrangements, variable work schedules, and skill-based roles, and they would be right—to a degree. These and other tactics certainly contributed to enhanced flexibility, but on their own, they can fall short of expectations.

Achieving true flexibility requires an environment in which those tactics work as intended. In other words, a flexibility-oriented culture. This culture includes benefits like:

  • A location-independent workforce
  • The basis for an optimized workforce
  • Motivated workers who are able to achieve life goals
  • The retention advantages of being an Employer of Choice and a Client of Choice
  • Metrics focus rather than workstyle focus

To establish this culture, flexibility must be core to organizational strategy and operations. While we may cheer on such a culture and readily perceive its business benefits, establishing one can be challenging.

Putting Flexibility at the Core of the Business

True flexibility occurs in a workplace where workers and managers align to meet both performance and work-life needs. It involves a two-way process as well as complete and clear communication. Managers set goals, provide resources, and listen to and act on feedback from workers. Workers determine the schedules, locations, and interfaces that will let them work most productively. Further, they stay in communication with managers so that everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction. In essence, managers provide the structure and resources and workers determine how to organize work to meet objectives and goals.

Getting there from here depends on where “here” is for a company. True flexibility needs well-developed soft skills in managers and workers along with a high degree of trust. Company policies and performance metrics must support flexibility. The closer an enterprise is to meeting those requirements, the closer it is to establishing a flexibility-oriented culture.

Making the Change – Challenges

Workers may find it easy to acclimate to true flexibility. For many, this culture aligns with their personal and professional goals and favors the work-life balance they seek. They may therefore be motivated to change their workstyle to work effectively in a flexible environment.

On the other hand, managers who feel the need to keep close tabs on their teams, who are uncomfortable managing in a remote/hybrid environment, or who lack the soft skills needed to lead workers into a flexible environment may find it difficult to move in the right direction. Policies and metrics can help them acclimate, but a manager whose style has “worked for years” could resist loosening their grip on teams and projects and learning new management styles. Involving your training and HR functions can help address challenges like these.

A Successful Future is a Flexible Future

Some companies only pay lip service to ideas that support flexibility. They may pursue some of the tactics that are part of a flexible workplace but avoid doing the work needed to create true flexibility. They are likely to be left behind in the future as cultures and management styles change. Companies that succeed will fully commit to establishing and nurturing to true flexibility in the workplace.


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