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Embracing Flexibility: Insights from Enterprise Leaders

5th Dec 2023

Flexible and hybrid working models are becoming the norm across industries. But for large, complex organisations, embracing truly flexible cultures can seem daunting. 

So the big question is: is it possible for global enterprises with thousands of employees to adapt to truly flexible working?

In our webinar “What does Flexibility look like in Traditionally Rigid Industries?” we unpack the opportunities and obstacles around flexibility in big businesses.

The wide-ranging conversation revealed tangible ways enterprises can retain talent, uplift wellbeing, and build inclusive cultures through flexibility. 

Here are our top takeaways: 

Defining the Flexibility Spectrum

Flexibility is much more than just remote work. It covers everything from compressed hours to job shares to shift swaps. Human-centric policies also support needs around mental health, family care, accessibility, continuing education, and more.

While traditionally flexibility has been looked at as something that allows employees to work when and where they want, its core value is enabling and supporting people to make the most of both their work and their personal lives.

"Flexibility comes in many different forms. It’s not just about where you work...It's the autonomy you have. [Even simple things, like] being able to take the dog for a walk or do the school run." - Cal Fairweather, TA & Employer Brand Lead at Centrica

The Business Case for Flexibility

According to pioneers who are leading the way in large corporations, when shifting to a more flexible way of working and presenting the case for new policies and benefits, the main payoffs of flexible working are productivity, retention, recruitment, innovation, and employee satisfaction. But panellists emphasised that flexibility should stem from trust and empathy rather than just commercial motivations.

The speakers also refer to their experience with what they call “boomerang employees” – those leaving for other opportunities before returning when new flexible policies have been implemented, which adds to the argument that flexibility now trumps compensation for many.

Overcoming Internal Resistance

Fear and micromanagement tend to drive manager reluctance around flexible arrangements. Focusing on transparency, communication, and education can shift mindsets for sceptical leaders and is a crucial role of HR and people teams.

We as humans are programmed to fear change so, like in any other scenario, you are bound to meet some resistance from people who have been doing things a certain way for years, especially senior leaders. But like in any process, if we don’t improve and innovate, we will end up falling behind, and this is already becoming apparent through the way candidates now search for new roles, putting the “how” next to, if not above the “what”.

"By leading with this information and transforming the hiring funnel into a marketing funnel centred around the EVP, the recruitment process becomes more efficient. In fact, employers leveraging Flexa have witnessed remarkable reductions in cost to hire by up to 90%." 

Enabling Flexibility at Scale

While overarching frameworks are needed, localised, team-based flexibility allows for personalisation and managers must have autonomy to cater to individual needs.

Regional nuances also play a role – EMEA employees may be used to more annual leave compared to other regions, for example. Global parity matters less than equitable flexibility that empowers people day-to-day.

To summarise the key takeaways from our panel:

  • Flexibility covers far more than remote work – it means supporting the spectrum of human needs.
  • Data shows that flexibility drives productivity, innovation, satisfaction, recruitment, and retention, utilise this data when presenting your case for flexibility,
  • Ongoing training and support enables adoption flexibility at scale.
  • Enable people to live their best lives, and high performance at work follows, allowing your teams to choose their way of work-life blend builds not only a strong, but also a loyal workforce.

The insights from these enterprise leaders demonstrate that flexibility, inclusion, productivity and profitability can successfully coexist at even the largest companies. Prioritising trust and empathy allows people and organisations alike to thrive.