In the corporates, workplace flexibility means affording employees the opportunity to make their own choices as to when, where, and how they engage in work-related projects and tasks. The term 'workplace flexibility' is often thrown in along with 'independence', 'work-life balance', 'friendly culture', and 'casual environment'. Yet, flexibility is often on the debating table for employers. Many companies question their ability to implement a flexible work style and simultaneously maintain high productivity and performance levels. Flexibility in the workplace and high productivity seem to be contradictory terms at face value, which is why many employers are hesitant to change the work style or environment in any way that hampers the strictness or rigidity of procedures and protocol.
So, can flexibility and productivity be balanced out? And if so, does flexibility at work impact innovation and efficiency? Debating workforce flexibility raises many concerns, but it is a very important discussion to have today as it has a huge impact on how companies attract, hire, and retain their talent. In fact, surveys conducted by Bayt.com, the Middle East’s largest job site, repeatedly found that workplace elements relating to flexibility, work-life balance, and friendly culture are on the radar for the majority of job seekers today. An all cubicle world and strict work environments usually create weakness in a company’s culture, and, not to mention, these elements can actually lower productivity and creativity levels in employees, due to excessive protocols and bureaucratic structures, as well as the monotonous and uninspiring work environment. Some companies may endure that kind of culture, but they won’t stand out, as top talent would most likely not have any interest in such an environment.
Leading companies acknowledge that talent plays an integral role for a company’s success. In order to hire and retain the right talent, you will have to create and customize a flexible work environment. Tailoring work environments and cultures to talent’s needs will make employees feel more valued and appreciated, which encourages them to perform to their maximum. Everything in life works to benefit all parties involved, if done right and effectively. Just like how communication is a two-way street, flexibility follows suit. Employees who are entrusted and given more freedom at work are highly appreciative of their flexible managers/employers. Thus, in return, employees will build on this approach and give in their maximum effort to meet their manager’s expectations while also being flexible themselves with what is asked of them.
In this case, employees will be working with their managers, hand-in-hand, towards organizational goals, rather than to simply please each other or avoid reprimand. The reality that’s a bit hard to swallow for some managers is that it doesn’t really matter when, where, and how the work is done. Of course, this is only true as long as the employee is giving their best in performing the duties and tasks and does not fail to meet deadlines and objectives.
Creating flexibility at work comes in different ways. It is not necessarily true that they all apply for your organization but some of them might help you greatly in your efforts to enhance your work environment and talent acquisition:
a. Part-time employment
Working somewhere between 10-30 hours a week creates flexibility. An organization that is having trouble finding an employee to fill in a vacancy might consider hiring two part-time employees that split and share duties of one full time position. At the same time, many employees may highly benefit from part-time employment, especially those who are still in university, working mothers, or those pursuing their passion and practicing their hobbies on the side. Giving the option of a part-time job benefits your organization in having the potential of these employees who are highly talented but are also specifically searching for that work schedule.
Telecommuting allows the employee to have more choices of where to perform their duties, which could range from being at a café to sitting in their home office. This could be a full-time or a part-time job. Telecommuting not only saves time and cost for the employee, but also, for startups, telecommuting could save your company the budgets for setting up office spaces, providing equipment, electricity bills and other related costs. This type of workplace flexibility reduces turnover rates as some employees tend to be more satisfied and productive in setting up their own work space and schedule according to their needs, but with respect to the given guidelines and timelines.
Freelancers are hired for specific project assignments; they could be brought in on a seasonal employment, full-time or part-time basis. Hiring a freelancer saves your company the cost of having a permanent employee, and ensures your organization is getting the job done by experts in the field during the allocated time and deadlines. Likewise, certain employees highly appreciate the flexibility that comes along with freelancing and finds themselves more productive in that type of work arrangement.
d. Flexible work hours
Having a flexible schedule is not only for telecommuters and freelancers. In fact, flexible work hours create a balance between work life and personal life, which all employees can appreciate. It also means that employees can start and stop their workday to their convenience to fulfil other duties they have out of the office. Allowing flexible scheduling will facilitate your employee’s duties outside of work, which helps them reduce stress and become more focused and productive while they are on the job. While flexible working hours aren’t possible for every job role, companies that work with their employees to meet their needs and aid them with their schedule often find many positive results in terms of productivity and employee satisfaction.
According to Bayt.com’s poll, Preferred Work Arrangements in the Middle East and North Africa, 85.9% of MENA professionals prefer to work for an employer who offers “flexible hours.” Every employer recognizes that employee morale and engagement levels are essential to the organization, and flexible working hours can truly help with these elements. In addition, 79% of respondents to the same poll mentioned that they prefer to work for an employer who offers remote-work options as it creates balance between their career and personal life.
Potential advantages for employees arising from flexible work environments are partially known, including greater autonomy, motivation and an improved work life balance. However, some employers do not recognize the benefits of workplace flexibility to their business. Here are a few:
Benefits of workplace flexibility:
1. Improved creativity
Employees often become more enthusiastic about their jobs, feeling happy and motivated when their company is meeting their needs of flexibility. This means they also tend to connect more with their employer and give in a more valuable contribution. When employees are satisfied and less stressed about the strict work environment, they feel more encouraged to think creatively and outside the box. Besides that, some employees feel more creative in different spaces, which is why telecommuting can help as well.
2. Increased customer service and loyalty
Having flexible working hours means that there is someone who is working beyond the traditional workspace 9-5 shift of the day. Customers are not always available to get in contact with you during those hours and thus they might lose connection with your company. Flexible work hours foster better customer service and customer loyalty. Customers perceive your company as being highly available for them to answer any concerns and questions. Of course, with a customer-facing role, your company will need to ensure the official business hours are covered, but that can be easily done with the help of your team.
3. More attractive employer brand
Being flexible with working hours and environment can attract a wider talent pool of candidates towards you and can also help you retain your talented employees. Some job seekers are very attentive to the work environment, culture, and flexibility, and these may be the sole reasons they join your company or go elsewhere. Likewise, your existing employees want to feel trusted and appreciated, and your work environment should always send them the right signals.
4. Reduced occupational stress
Hours of traffic jam and public transportation times could lead to commuting stress, which could be a major aspect of stress for workers. Employees find that being in control of their time reduces the stress and help them in delivering their job duties efficiently.
All organizations nowadays should take into consideration workplace flexibility when cultivating their culture and work environment. Teamwork, efficiency, innovation, and organizational productivity can all increase when flexibility is introduced in the workplace in a balanced and well managed way. Nonetheless, employers are expected to have formalized procedures with their employees to ensure both ends are delivering the required duties and tasks effectively and are willing to adapt to this kind of change.
As changes in job landscape, lifestyles and priorities are frequently taking place, preferences in the MENA region for work arrangements have been on continuous change as well. We can conclude from the research reports conducted by Bayt.com that professionals in the MENA region care about elements such as autonomy, flexibility, positive work culture, and work-life balance. Given the insights, employers in the region can actually drive employee morale and engagement and maintain high productivity levels by adapting to the desires of their workforce.