Back in the mid-to-late 2010s, employers interpreted things a little differently. Take the kegerator, for example. Back then, a growing number of big companies — Twitter, Yelp, DropBox, just to name a few — started stocking beer and wine in their office fridges, offering craft beer on tap for visitors and employees, and celebrating with "Whiskey Fridays".
But in today's era, offering this perk wouldn't necessarily land. So you have a keg in the office. So what? So do your competitors.
It seems all-too obvious, but it can't be said enough: Employees want workplace flexibility. I repeat: Employees want workplace flexibility.
What does workplace flexibility really look like?
When it comes to what flexibility means, there's an element of misinterpretation involved.
The parable of the office kegerator
Back to the kegerator example: If employees truly wanted a keg in the office — that’s not to say they are unhappy about the option or would waste the chance to put it to good use — the solution would be simple enough. Everyone gets a kegerator. Problem solved.
Except merely possessing the office keg doesn’t do much towards your hiring and retention goals. Let’s face it, there isn’t exactly a shortage of places to find a drink. They can go to a bar, go home, or forego the drink altogether. Plenty of options, most of which are more aligned with the type of workplace flexibility they're actually after.
What attracted people wasn’t the kegerator. In fact, it wasn’t ever about the keg at all. It was about offering something that was in touch with their ideal talent pool’s interests, something appealing because it was uncommon and set the culture apart from the rest.
It won people over because it gave people real benefits:
- A way for colleagues to build connections
- A chance to stay in the office for a purpose that didn’t feel forced
- The opportunity for conversations that went beyond dashboards, metrics, and profit
- Sharing experiences with people they spent all day long working with, and yet sometimes hardly seemed to know
People weren’t sold on the kegerator. They were drawn in by its relevance. Something told them they’d really get something special by working here. They’d be able to contribute here. They saw a glimpse of hope that work could be better here. Somewhere they fit in. Somewhere they enjoyed being.
Why people are drawn in by the office experience
According to Gensler, the top reason to come to the office — across all industries and generations — has stayed consistent throughout the course of the pandemic: to “collaborate with my team”.
And in an article with Wired, CEO of Leesman Tim Oldman is quoted as saying: "Out of all the slicing and dicing we could do across 250,000 employees, there’s one single biggest motivator for employees to return to the workplace….it’s the quality of the experience that they have when they get to the corporate work setting. If they like the office, they want to be there four days a week, if they don't, it's one day at most."
“If they like the office, they want to be there four days a week, if they don’t, it’s one day at most.”
Which would you choose?
Seven years ago, the 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study found that 75% of employees ranked workplace flexibility as their top benefit. So you can only imagine how much of an impact the subsequent years — particularly those spent working from home — have had on this trend.
Let's put you on the spot for a minute. Say you've been given two job offers. Both companies offer equal pay and provide the same benefits. But there's an important difference when it comes to when and where you work. One asks you to spend the majority of your time in the office — the majority of your workweek; Monday through Friday; 9-5.
The other, seemingly more aware of the current climate, offers you more workplace flexibility. Not only will they allow you to arrive and leave the office on a more fluid schedule and work from home 2+ days a week, they're also a lot less interested in micromanaging your schedule. They want to support you and enable you — and trust your own ability to manage and meet your deadlines.
So, which do you choose?
If you’re like a lot of people in today’s job market, it's an easy choice. You want to work for a company that gives you the flexibility to work in whatever way you’re most productive and efficient, not one that makes you sit at the same desk every day for the same arbitrary 8-hour time frame.
One key driver is "work-life balance". Sometimes life throws a curveball that doesn’t fit in with a traditional 9-5 work schedule. Good employees want to be able to dedicate themselves to their job, their families and their health. They want a balanced work and personal life.
Employees also want to be trusted. If employees are going to trust their employer, their employer has to trust them. And that includes trusting them to get their work tasks done, whether it’s by putting in a couple of 10 hour workdays, or by working 5 hours on a Friday and working the rest of the day from home.
Organizational trust substantially affects recruitment and retention numbers, especially when expressed as a policy that allows for a flexible workplace. Retaining talent was one of the top employer benefits by respondents from the Workplace Flexibility Study (65%), and according to a McKinsey & Company study, it’s more likely for a millennial to accept your job offer if your company offers flexible work schedules. Better attraction and retention of talented employees results in less turnover and training costs.
Flexibility can also lead to better employee engagement and productivity. When employees can balance work demands with their personal life demands through workplace flexibility, they report reduced stress and negative spillover as well as being more productive and engaged.
Employees with a work-life balance – having sufficient time to devote to work, their families and their health – are mentally and physically healthier. A University of Minnesota study showed that employees who were given flexible work schedules slept better and took better care of themselves.
3 ways to offer workplace flexibility in 2022
Convinced that a flexible workplace is the way to go, or at least ready to start taking steps in that direction? Here are three areas to consider.
1. Make it easy to reserve meeting rooms with the right tech.
When your employees’ hours are flexible, your meeting rooms need to be as well.
A flexible workforce isn’t going to have meetings at the same time or even the same day every week. Your different internal teams are going to meet when there’s a need – planned or not – or when all team members are in the office at the same time.
So you need to have enough available, bookable meeting space to make every spur-of-the-moment meeting possible. You also need the right conference room scheduling system so employees can quickly and easily find and book available rooms and times from phones or tablets.
When employees are not all in the office at the same time, effective meetings require the latest communication tools and technology, to keep everyone on the same page about deliverables, deadlines and schedules.
2. Provide a dynamic, adaptable workspace.
Some employees work better alone in a quiet cubicle, while others’ creativity thrives on frequent interaction and collaboration. Some companies find that a fluid workspace works well with a culture of flexibility.
Consider activity based working, for example, where are no set workstations. Instead, companies offer a variety of workstations with adjustable desks, common areas with couches and comfy chairs and long tables. Pinterest is a good example of a business whose office design embraces a creative, collaborative environment.
3. Set expectations and hold teams accountable.
Aside from the technical, communication-related challenges of remote working, accountability is the second most common hurdle to flexwork being implemented at more companies. Some managers worry that employees who are working remotely won’t be able to focus on their work duties, or will struggle to stay motivated.If your company is just starting to move toward a more flexible workplace, setting clear expectations from the beginning can help prevent potential problems later on.
The idea of empowering your employees is critically important, but often it becomes more catch-phrase than reality. Usually it's because even though leaders understand it's important, they don't always know how to do it.
The best way to tackle this challenge is by regularly setting expectations with your staff. If you're doing that at appropriate intervals, you'll have the confidence that the right things are being worked on, that issues are addressed before they become problems, that your team is held accountable, and that you have the information you need to make the right calls
Support new ways of working with workplace technology
Nothing will hurt your bottom-line as much as an unhappy, disengaged workforce. That's why, in an ever-evolving workplace, more companies are investing in the employee experience and offering more workplace flexibility.
Technology is just one factor that contributes to an employee's overall experience, but one of the most significant. When you have the right solutions in place, you can help reduce friction and frustration, boost productivity, and keep employees motivated and enabled.