How to Make Flexible Work the Way of the Future
Almost overnight, we have seen our workplaces change dramatically as remote—and now flexible—work arrangements have become widespread. Employees have long wanted increased flexibility to work when, where, and how it suits them, yet for many, this has not been possible until now.
The important question is this: Will flex work emerge as a widespread new normal when the current crisis is over, or will we return to old-school policies?
My hope is that organizations will finally shift from allowing accommodations for some employees to embedding flexibility as a cultural norm for all. Such a move would be tremendously beneficial for women’s advancement.
Catalyst has long argued that Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) are the foundation of an inclusive work culture and a central tool to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion. FWAs enable women and others with caregiving responsibilities to fully participate in their work environment and succeed. They provide accommodations regarding the time and/or place in which work is completed—including, among others, flexible scheduling, work location, or number of hours worked. Research shows that flexibility can increase retention, boost career aspirations and productivity, and decrease absenteeism. We also know that smart managers trust their employees to get the job done, concerning themselves less about when and where the work is completed as long as deadlines are met.
Despite the progress made for women across many sectors of the economy, it’s no secret that many workplaces do not work for women for a variety of reasons—including the presence of unconscious gender bias and the gender pay gap. Many workplaces also create barriers for those managing both work and family, a situation that continues to fall disproportionately on women, often impeding advancement, or forcing them out of the workforce altogether.
As organizations adjust to a new culture beyond the current crisis, I offer three steps to start the journey to institute flexibility as a cultural norm.
- Consider different types of Flexible Work Arrangements. We now know that “face time” is not a necessary ingredient to productivity or success. It is time to consider alternative work structures such as flexible arrival and departure times; increased flexibility for when work is conducted across the week; opportunities for telecommuting; compressed work weeks; reduced work and/or part-time opportunities; and job sharing.
- Reconsider the path to promotion. Evaluate how advancement decisions (and special assignment opportunities) traditionally have been made within your organization, and consider your options moving forward. Large, visible projects and international assignments have been the cornerstone of “hot jobs” that have advanced high-potentials in the past—and, not surprisingly, women have received far fewer of these critical experiences. Let’s find ways to increase the visibility of women at work and ensure they are offered the same opportunities.
- Create a culture of psychological safety. Establish open discussions in which all employees, especially women, feel safe sharing their experiences and perspectives to ensure you are creating space for a reimagined way to work. Now is the moment to give employees the space to share how they are truly feeling—and to carry that culture forward.
For women, improved practices around flex time could be a real game-changer, helping to accelerate work satisfaction, growth opportunities, and advancement.
Director, Corporate Engagement, Western Canada
Erin Davis is a connector, change-maker, and builder of inclusive workplace cultures. She continues to follow her passion on building workplaces that work for women and recently accepted the role of Director, Corporate Engagement, Western Canada with Catalyst. Previously, Erin was the Director, Global Total Engagement at Stantec and lead…