Mobilize! Flexible work – what it is (not)

1/19/18 1:26 PM


In a four part series of blog posts called “Mobilize!” I examine flexible working and what it is, why it makes sense and how to get started. In this first part, I want to encourage discussion about the concept of flexible work, and what it’s all about. Stay tuned for more!

 Flex work can mean choosing where to work. Thanks to technology, you can work at a cafe or from home.

What is “flex work” - and why is there so much talk about it?

To me, flex work is any kind of work arrangement that differs from the traditional workweek model of five consecutive eight-hour workdays performed at the organization’s facilities with fixed start and end times each workday.

But flex work can be a lot more than just flexible working hours at the office. It also includes flexibility in the choice of location: combining the possibility to work both from the office and at satellite offices and coworking spaces more conveniently located, made possible thanks to modern technologies. The benefits of this include reduced travel time and commuting costs; decreased energy consumption, pollution and traffic jams; and, finally, lowered stress levels from being able to balance work and personal life.

However, let me say right off the bat: working permanently 9 to 5 alone from home, is not flex work in my book. There should ideally be a balance between freedom to work anytime-anywhere, and the so-called “water cooler effect” - the opportunity to casually connect and collaborate with your colleagues around the office. Being stationary at home is not flexibility, but just another version of fixed working arrangements.

Mobile technology enables anytime-anywhere working

Another aspect of flex work and a prerequisite for enabling work at a distance (telecommuting) is the availability of functioning mobile technologies. This key enabler is one of the main drivers for mobile and remote work, also known as anytime-anywhere working.

Lastly, flex work can include a variety of flexible work arrangements agreed upon between the employer and employee, such as flex time, compressed work weeks, reduced work schedules, job sharing, and flexibility during one’s career path that allows for sabbaticals or leave for e.g. part-time studies or parental leave. These arrangements typically help bring both work-life balance and well-being to the workforce. 

Boost morale, agility and productivity

At best, flex work is a workplace strategy that can boost morale, agility and productivity. Many studies show that there is correlation between flexible work arrangements, happiness and productivity. For example, a study by the University of Warwick reports that happiness led to a 12 percent increase in productivity, while dissatisfied workers were 10 percent less productive. Likewise, a study conducted by Rapal Oy found a clear connection between the ability to work flexibly and workplace satisfaction and well-being.

Whatever the variations in arrangements may be, one thing should remain clear: the employer’s objective is to focus on overall business goals rather than on micro-managing how people do their work, supervising headcounts or creating tailored work accommodations for individuals. In a work culture based on targets and trust, the aim is to enable better work-life balance, productivity and well-being. 

While flex work sounds like the ticket to organizational bliss, it is important to understand and communicate that flexibility is not

  • A universal worker’s right, entitlement or award
  • A secret perk or deal for the selected few
  • Something that suits all job profiles or competencies
  • A matter of HR-policy, disconnected from daily management or company culture
  • A space reduction program aiming to save real estate costs by having people work from home.

In the next Mobilize! blog, I’ll discuss the case for flexible work and why connections between flexible work arrangements and metrics like happiness and productivity should be considered.

Mobilize! Set up your own flex work program!

Are you considering flexible work arrangements for your company, or perhaps re-evaluating your flex work policy? Read on! In this four part blog series, Pontus Kihlman, Executive Consultant at Rapal Oy, delves a little deeper into the concept of flexible work as well as its pros and cons, and shares tips on how to develop your own flex work program. This post is the first in the series. Be sure to read the following three posts, too.

Pontus Kihlman

Written by Pontus Kihlman

Executive Consultant, Workplace Management Services