People & Leadership

Radical flexibility: How this work model puts your people first

More workplaces are moving from hybrid working to radical flexibility as the aftermath of the pandemic continues to transform working life.

A growing number of workplaces are moving from hybrid working to radical flexibility as the aftermath of COVID-19 and lockdown continue to accelerate a number of trends in the world of work.

Want to know what radical flexibility is and what it means for you as an employer? We cover that and more in this article:

What is radical flexibility?

While hybrid working is essentially focused on ‘when’ and ‘where’ work takes place, radical flexibility builds on those factors to explore the ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘with whom’, of working life.

It usually places more of a focus on choice and responsibility, with employers given more freedom and autonomy by their employers.

Technological research and consulting firm Gartner views it as a key part of what it calls an attractive and human-centric employee value proposition (EVP).

Graham Waller, a Distinguished Vice President at Gartner, says: “We recommend moving from an office-centric work design to a human-centric approach, where individual and team requirements are the central pillar.

“Contrast that with hybrid working – when everyone in the organisation works remotely on say Mondays and Thursdays, it may be hybrid but it’s not human-centric, and how you bring that to life is via the employee value proposition.”

The pandemic has changed how we want to work

During the pandemic, many of us got used to working in a way that suited own lifestyle and personal preferences. Increasingly we’re not willing to wave goodbye to these freedoms, it seems.

“Today, more than half (51%) of employees say they have flexible working arrangements in their current role, and this number looks set to grow,” says the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in a recent report.

“In the last six months, more than a third of organisations (37%) have seen an increase in requests for flexible working.”

The idea of increased freedom – alongside some corresponding increase in the obligations put on employees – that this way of working entails has been embraced by pharmaceutical company Novartis, which launched its Choice with Responsibility programme in 2020.

Among other features the initiative, says Novartis employees need only inform their managers about where and how they’ll be working on a particular day, rather than having to get management approval.

Almost no one likes commuting – and reducing it can increase your team’s performance, according to research by the Harvard Business School.

Andy Wu, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the School, took a sample of 3,445 inventors and then measured the number and quality of patented inventions that they submitted as a way of measuring how inspired and effective they were at their jobs.

Andy and his colleagues found that for every 10km of extra travel distance of commuting, the firm employing these inventors saw a registration of 5% fewer patents.

The quality of the patents fell by 7% with every extra 10km added to the inventors’ commute, while the most talented inventors suffered the most.

The greatest productivity losses were found among the highest performing inventors, those among the top 10%.

Radical flexibility allows teams to decide whether they will work at home, in the workplace or at any other location.

Ideally, they should be empowered and trusted to make these decisions, with their managers’ responsibility limited to ensuring that they meet their targets – and that they’re happy and supported with their choice of working and travel arrangements.

Getting everyone on board with radical flexibility

How can you make sure that radical flexibility works for you?

“Have one-to-one conversations with team leaders to find out how their employees work best,” advises Cathy Acratopulo, MD and co-founder of LACE Partners, an HR transformation consultancy that supports a number of FTSE 250 organisations.

“This helps determine people’s preferences and create the right balance of work that suits both parties.

“Leaders need to define productivity together with their employees to ensure they are on the same page. Productivity might mean something different to each person, so it’s important to establish the term and KPIs [key performance indicators] around it to help build trust.”

Cathy also recommends that your team leaders challenge themselves about whether their own behaviour lives up to the values they offer around flexible work options.

“If employees have flexibility while executives are coming in every day, unintentionally employees will feel that they also have to come in to be seen,” she says.

“Employees need to feel connected, so organisations need to up their game in terms of communication and ensuring the use of appropriate collaboration tools that suit both office and remote workers.”

Molly Johnson-Jones is an expert on flexible working and the founder of Flexa Careers, a global directory for verified flexible companies.

She says: “Employees’ working location and hours don’t impact output. Their wellbeing, happiness and ability to work in a way that suits them does,

“And since our data shows that 57% of job seekers expressed a preference for fully remote roles in July 2022 (an 18% increase compared to the previous month), profitability and productivity is only a concern for employers who fail to respond.

“Talent is the most valuable asset of all, and masses of talent are looking for more flexible roles right now.”

How employers can make radical flexibility work

Ready to make radical flexibility happen in your workplace? Here’s seven things you need to do:

1. Consult your employees on ways of working

You need to think carefully about how best to implement radical flexibility.

Agreeing with your teams on the best style, timing and format of this communication for both of you will help this process work for the business.

Ideally, you want to check in with employees without making them feel that you’re checking up on them.

Time zone differences should be considered too as you may have employees who are working remotely and are based in other countries.

2. Show your employees how it can benefit their work

Radical flexibility can help your people be more productive.

It’s worth highlighting that to them.

Varying the style and pace of work can allow your teams to focus on projects and tasks that require a particular type of working, be that collaboration, report writing, meeting clients face to face, or time for contemplation and reflection.

In addition, you’re less likely to encourage presenteeism where people don’t feel able to take the time they need, even for holidays and sickness.

3. Focus on the end result

As you increase your teams’ freedom and flexibility, it’s important to continue to set goals and targets for them.

Rather than focusing on how and where they’re working, pay attention to whether they’re delivering the end results (and make sure to provide the support required, so they can do so).

4. Implement regular catch ups (both formal and informal)

Regular communication is just as important with flexible working as it is with traditional management practices, if not more so.

Therefore, ensure your employees are getting the right amount of ‘face time’ with their managers and with each other.

Virtual meetings are good for quick, factual check-ins but that informal chat over a cup of coffee is equally important.

5. Make employees aware they can balance family and work responsibilities

This rapidly evolving approach to people management means talented, committed employees who need time off for childcare or other responsibilities can work for you and find a role in your business.

Let your employees know that, so they can manage their personal requirements with ease.

6. Highlight it as a perk in your recruitment process

You can attract people to your business who might be capable and engaged but who struggle to fit in with constraints of the traditional nine to five, five-days-a-week, workplace-centred regime.

7. Use HR software to manage your people processes

Cloud HR software makes it easier to monitor and manage employees in a more flexible and less heavy-handed way. And, just as important of all here, it also gives your people greater autonomy.

HR tech can be used to help in a number of ways. For example:

  • Your employees can self-serve and book holiday, submit receipts or file timesheets without having to go through cumbersome bureaucracy or spend time talking to their line managers and HR departments about the details.
  • You can create a work from home policy for your remote working employees
  • Clear communication channels can be set up between remote workers and yourself
  • You can create an inventory of company assets that your employees can use (think laptops, mobile phones, printers, vehicles) and easily keep track of them.

Making radical flexibility work for your business

As you can see, there are numerous benefits to implementing radical flexibility within your business, and using the right tech can help you make that happen.

Providing your employees with the flexibility to do their best work and balance their personal requirements will help both them and your business to thrive.

How to attract, engage and keep great people

Discover how to find and retain the best talent so your business can keep growing and thriving.

Download your free guide

Subscribe to the Sage Advice newsletter

Join more than 500,000 UK readers and get the best business admin strategies and tactics, as well as actionable advice to help your company thrive, in your inbox every month.