Flexible working: it’s all in the mind

There’s no doubt flexible working can benefit both employer and employee. And with many being required to work from home during the pandemic, it’s been proven to work. Yet in my experience the starting point for real change is getting people to recognise and adapt their mindset.

 

Flexibility. Flexible working.

It’s a hot topic and one that we believe in passionately here at Leading Edge Life Skills, both in our own work and the skills we foster in our courses.

This Wednesday (10 June) is Flexible Working Day, an annual event which includes a virtual summit and various other initiatives. This year’s theme is reframing flexibility for the future, which is obviously well-timed given the pandemic we are going through right now and the capacity it has to cement genuine change (a topic I’ve written about myself).

Personally, I’m really excited to see what comes out of these discussions and how we’re going to tackle ongoing workplace flexibility as we slowly return to our normal office environments post-COVID. Especially since most of us have proven what we can do from our homes while balancing other responsibilities!

A flexible mindset

Flexibility in a workplace covers a broad range of areas from office hours and locations to ways of working. True flexibility has been shown by researchers to benefit both employers and employees, for reasons including productivity, staff retention and wellbeing.

Many people have shown over the last couple of months that it can and does work as they juggle doing their job from home, schooling and other caring responsibilities.

What, then, might continue to hold us back? In my opinion, it all comes down to having a flexible mindset. Ingrained beliefs and behaviours (for example, assuming employees are not pulling their weight because you can’t see them, or people who finish early aren’t doing as much), can be difficult to change. They are even tricky to recognise in yourself.

I know this because I’ve seen people’s inflexibility challenged and highlighted many times in our courses. Liz, a banking executive, was in a team with another person, Sally and our horse, Bart. Liz was convinced she knew how to “make” Bart  comply with her way of doing things, but he just firmly planted his feet and refused to move.

“I’ve always done things this way.” she commented, almost confused at first.

Eventually, she was forced to confront her own rigid mindset. See that the way she wanted to do things was not always the best for the team. She ended up thanking Bart for making her realise this about her leadership style and it is something that she would look at changing.

Sally had a different take away from the experience. She thanked Bart for reminding her about patience and letting others – even the boss – work through problem solving in their own way.

 

Employees need to step up too

Statistics show over 70% of private sector organisations in Australia now have flexible working policies (although this is pre-COVID). Good but not great!

However, at the same time I think employees also have a responsibility to step up. Flexible working requires employees to be flexible in their own thinking and work practices. There is greater need to follow through on commitments, make sure everything they do has buy-in from their boss and communicate needs and expectations clearly.

What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles to flexibility in the workplace? Will COVID-19 have a big impact? Let us know in the comments!

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