Enhancing the employee experience with flexibility

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Following months of lockdown and orders to work from home, we are beginning to see a new outlook on what an ideal work-life balance looks like for Aussie workers.

Unlike big corporations who may be subject to more complex workplace regulations and multiple higher-ups when it comes to making a decision, SMEs are in a much better position for change. The reduced layers of complexity allow these businesses to better adapt to and take advantage of flexible work arrangements within reasonable cost and timeframes.

So, what are the key things to consider when essentialising flexibility in a small team?

Putting mental health at the forefront

Mental health and employee well-being have been a key focus for many years. From improved diet to more regular exercises, employers should be looking at these outcomes as valuable reference points when designing the structure of flexible work arrangements in a post-COVID environment, ensuring the appropriate balance of organisational and employee needs and expectations.

Ongoing effective communication is key

Given the current uncertainty facing Aussie workers, SMEs need to be ready for a series of conversations with employees to find out what they value and what works best for them. Due to the high variability in the nature of work that could be done remotely, productivity may fluctuate. Where one employee may enjoy not having to commute at all, another may find it hard to focus at home with children or pets causing distractions. Flexibility works out differently for each employee, so employers must start to engage in these conversations to keep up the changing needs across the workplace and employee expectations.

Communication is also key to keep the workforce connected in spite of the physical distance. The opportunity to work flexible hours at flexible locations should be accompanied by the necessary tools to ensure collaboration and “learning by seeing” aren’t disrupted. A hybrid model, consisting of both online and offline communication, remains the most practical and sustainable way in maintaining teamwork.

Adding flexibility to the job ad

Our research suggests Aussie workers’ desire for flexibility will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic. This will have a huge impact on the way businesses recruit new talent in the coming months and years, as our research shows 71 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 would prioritise work flexibility over fixed pay. This isn’t about reducing the average wage or trading off salary increases for flexible policies, but rather recognising the demand and value employees now attribute to flexibility in the workplace. SMEs who want to remain competitive in the current climate but don’t have the deep pockets of their larger competitors must embrace and promote the flexible policies that will attract the brightest talent.

Being flexible with flexibility

SMEs must also be flexible in the way they offer flexibility. As the pandemic mandated employees to work from home, the veil was lifted on the ability to allow flexible arrangements without the associated drop in employee efficiency and productivity many businesses have traditionally feared. From remote working and purchased leave through to flexible hours and on-demand pay, employers should now be looking at the array of practices that comprise flexibility. Whilst organisational needs and the reality that some roles are not amenable to types of flexible arrangements must be considered, organisations should carefully consider whether reverting to a pre-COVID framework in a post-COVID world is the right strategy.

Flexibility has grown to become a vital component in workforce management and potentially, future talent acquisition. With smaller sizes and simpler business structures, SMEs have the natural advantage of adopting flexibility with relative ease, and should be doing so where they can.

Richard Breden, General Manager, Ascender