Top tips for a flexible workplace

The following article is authored by Diversity Council Australia CEO, Lisa Annese.  This article was first published in The third Sector.

Flexibility is key.

No successful sporting coach has ever suggested that only one or two members of a team need to be flexible. While it can be advantageous for certain positions on the field to be more agile and adaptable than others, the real rewards are gained when everyone warms up properly, does the training and becomes fully flexed.

The same is true for flexibility in the workplace. Offering individuals flexible working arrangements is a positive move to accommodate members of the team with particular needs but the true benefits come when everyone is encouraged and supported to adopt flexible work practices.

As with physical agility, flexibility doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t simply expect to wake up one day and be flexible without laying the right foundations. Lack of preparation can lead to injury, or in the case of the workplace, mistakes, missed opportunities, resentment from teammates, and general dissatisfaction. It can also have a long term impact on career prospects. Trying to flex without the proper groundwork is risking an injury that may rule someone out for a season or more.

Diversity Council Australia has been working with employers over many years to help them create flexible, inclusive and productive workplaces. We applaud employers who have recognised that some of their staff would work more effectively if given the opportunity to work from home, adjust their schedule from the standard nine to five routine or take leave in half day increments. However, granting these conditions to the few that are perceived to need it most, is just a quick fix. Systemic change is needed to ensure maximum performance and wellbeing for individuals and organisations alike.

Earlier this year, DCA introduced a new way of approaching flexible working, Future-Flex: Mainstreaming flexibility by design.   This approach requires shifting from a traditional ‘individual accommodation’ mindset about work and flexibility to a ‘work design’ mindset in order to fully unlock the benefits of flexible working.

Future-Flex encourages businesses to rethink, reshape, restructure and redesign. Rather than thinking of flexibility as a means of minimising work-life conflict, it asks “How can we organise team members’ work and jobs to maximise the performance of the organisation, teams and individuals?”

Future-Flex not only creates organisations in which employees can access flexibility for all roles, for any reason, and can have successful engaged careers, it creates opportunities to deliver business improvements. To adopt this new approach, organisations need to:

  • Start with the Team. Employees are key partners in developing team-based flexibility solutions that work.
  • Treat Flexibility as a Business-Tool. Focus on flexible work to boost the performance and wellbeing of organisations, teams and individuals and meet customer service, innovation, and growth and efficiency goals. .
  • Consider Culture. Organisational and team cultures are critical to the success of workplaces where employees can access flexibility for all roles and for any reason, and can have successful, engaged careers.
  • Challenges Bias. For change to occur, everyone needs to explore and challenge assumptions about what it means to be a flexible worker (e.g. about people’s career aspirations, interest in training and development, levels of commitment to the organisation etc.)

So we encourage everyone to bend and stretch their thinking and look more closely at how flexing together is the key to success for all.