Business is a rapidly changing environment. Companies must find ways to stay ahead of the pack to remain relevant. The same goes for employees, who must be flexible and ready to take on any challenge.
The question is, how can office workers become more flexible at work? At its core, career flexibility is a mindset. Building habits that encourage work flexibility are part of the first and most crucial step. Afterward, people should build skills that allow them to work with more agility. They should focus on adopting the flexibility framework from individuals to teams. Finally, organizational policies must account for flexible work-life balance.
Increasing work flexibility is easier said than done. It requires careful planning and deliberate action at all social levels. Fortunately, there are many ways to inject more agility into the workplace.
This article lists down 25 methods that employees can take to become more flexible at work. These methods are appropriate for employees who want to improve their performance as well as to managers who wish to have more flexible teams.
1. Stick to your core values.
2. Develop open-mindedness.
3. Be optimistic, but grounded.
4. Embrace failure.
5. Be proactive, not reactive.
6. Introduce some chaos.
7. Build broad networks.
8. Explore diverse skill sets.
9. Never stop learning.
10. Try out role rotations.
11. Make plans, but be ready to change course.
12. Do rapid prototyping.
13. Evaluate progress.
14. Encourage feedback.
15. Consider collaborative team structures.
16. Veer away from rigid leadership styles.
17. Implement flexible frameworks.
18. Encourage risk-taking.
19. Manage conflict without eliminating it.
20. Find better ways to brainstorm.
22. Compressed workweek
25. Overtime considerations
Work flexibility is a two-step process. First, it considers the ability to perceive changes that happen in the workplace. Second, it involves the skill of quickly coming up with an appropriate response. Flexibility is essential as it helps companies become more resilient towards change while allowing them to take more considerable advantage of changing conditions.
There was once a time when work flexibility was unheard of. Work conditions used to follow a regular pattern, with changes only occurring gradually. The only type of scenario that would have required a quick response was emergencies, such as when a worker accidentally wounds his hand. In such a world, it was more important for workers to be very efficient at what they do rather than becoming adaptable to changes.
Fortunately, the work environment has drastically changed over the decades. The pace and complexity of work as increased. At the same time, technology has allowed businesses to become more interconnected with everything. Given these, work has become more dynamic. Innovation is now more valuable over sheer efficiency.
Becoming flexible at work has its benefits. It protects employees from the harmful effects of change by ensuring that they are ready for anything that happens. Flexibility allows employees to do work that might not adequately fit within their job descriptions. Finally, flexibility allows more people to join the workforce, including those that might not be able to hold typical job schedules.
Here are the 25 ways by which people can hone their career flexibility. This list contains tips for developing a flexible mindset and other relevant skills. There are also methods that can help teams become more flexible. Finally, typical schemes to make work-life balance more attainable are also listed here.
Given the demands of the job, many people focus on becoming more efficient at the tasks required by their work roles. Sometimes, this means becoming less adept at being flexible, as employees never had the chance to practice the skill of adaptability. To encourage flexibility, employees must first develop a mindset conducive to flexibility.
One of the most important truths to note is that, ironically, some things should never change. In the pursuit of change, some people are tempted to abandon their core values. Flexibility should never come at the cost of morality and other principles that are endeared by individuals or the organization.
That said, core values need not be a hindrance towards change. People can use these values to determine where innovation would be most useful. Instead of a barrier, these core values essentially become signposts, pointing the general direction for change. Ideally, flexibility should lead to these core values being implemented further within the organization.
One of the key personality traits associated with work flexibility is open-mindedness. The ability to entertain thoughts and ideas different from what someone would usually expect characterizes this trait. Open-minded people are more willing to try out new things, and they are often more comfortable with risk and change.
The problem with many traditional workplaces is that they tend to discourage open-mindedness. Many superiors prefer employees that easily comply with their directives, and they usually prefer to leave their subordinates out of the decision-making process. Such a setup actively discourages open-mindedness.
Being a personality trait, open-mindedness depends partially on genetics as well as upbringing. However, practice also hones it. Many of the following tips in this list are meant to help people develop more open-mindedness, paving the way towards more career agility.
Being flexible at work entails being comfortable with significant levels of risk. Change, by its very nature, diverges from the status quo, and sometimes it can lead to unfavorable outcomes. Small failures are an inevitable consequence of work flexibility, and people should be able to weather out these moments without losing momentum.
By being more optimistic, employees are better able to cope with actively managing change. They are less likely to give up after failures, using the opportunity instead to figure out what went and to make improvements. Optimism is a necessity when navigating change.
At the same time, employees should remain grounded. Unbridled optimism quickly leads to aggressive risk-taking and carelessness, ultimately leading to even more failure. Even as they try to innovate, people should never lose sight of reality. They should have an acute sense of their current capabilities, and they should attempt tasks that are wildly out of their league.
As mentioned before, change is risky. It involves leaving what is already tried and tested in the pursuit of something even better. However, people sometimes fail to reach their goals, even after using up significant amounts of resources. Uncertainty is always a part of change, and having a flexibility mindset means that people should be able to stand up and try again.
That said, people should not actively pursue failure. However, they should think of failures as learning opportunities rather than as stumbling blocks. For instance, employees can conduct a thorough analysis whenever they encounter failure. They can analyze what exactly happened, how it all came to be, and how they could have prevented it. Insights they gain from this analysis can then be applied for future endeavors.
Embracing failure means accepting that they will occur sooner or later, even with all the preparation in the world. What matters is to prepare for failure to mitigate its impact and to find ways to learn from failure moments.
Change can occur in two ways. Ideally, it should form part of a change management strategy aimed at pursuing specific goals. However, change often occurs in less intentional scenarios. In many cases, external factors trigger it, such as the emergence of a new competitor or an industry upheaval. In this case, people are forced to react to survive, which can be difficult if prior preparations are insufficient.
Sometimes, the reactive mindset becomes so ingrained in the minds of employees. When this happens, they lose the motivation to take charge, instead of resorting to letting things happen and acting accordingly. This way of working is not optimal, as it leaves them vulnerable to the harmful effects of change.
By being more proactive, people can better control the outcomes of change. They can set plans to proceed with the change, as well as strategies for dealing with unexpected events. People can maximize flexibility when they act proactively, as they have greater freedom to direct their course of action.
Flexibility is intimately tied to change, and change itself involves a certain amount of chaos. Despite the negative connotation, it can be a part of a healthy workplace that encourages flexibility. Another term for uncertainty, it is pervasive and expected, given that people cannot completely predict the future.
Many establishments work hard to reduce chaos. They set policies that ensure that operations run smoothly, in accordance with the goals of the organization. Efficiency comes from being able to worry less about uncertainty. The problem with this approach is that it reduces creativity, innovation, and flexibility.
To retrain workers to become more flexible, it might be helpful to introduce some productive chaos into the workplace. For example, some firms deliberately set relaxed rules, offer job rotations, and even encourage people to engage in side projects unrelated to their jobs. Activities such as these increase disorder, requiring people to become comfortable in dynamic environments.
Just take note not to take things too far. Excessive chaos can be detrimental to productivity and employee satisfaction.
Once the employees have a flexible mindset, the next phase of building a flexible work culture can start. They need to develop skills that capitalize on their newfound flexibility so that they can reap maximum benefits. They allow people to navigate change with a reasonable level of security. These skills also help them hone their agility further.
Humans are animals that dominated the world due to their intelligence and social skills. Interactions with other people are fundamental in any social order. In that same token, productive employees rely on their professional networks to learn about opportunities and best practices, as well as to give and receive support.
Having a vast network is not enough though when it comes to encouraging flexibility. Those that focus on a single department, in one firm, are unlikely to lead to work flexibility. Instead, employees should reach out to more diverse sets of people. They should strive to build networks with people from different departments, corporations, and industries.
This method allows people virtual access to the practices and cultures of each domain. Given the various idiosyncrasies among different organizations, people are poised to learn so much if they have exposure to these different fields.
When employees apply for jobs, recruiters typically prefer those who are good fits for the current needs of the company. For corporations with high work specialization and departmentalization, recruits that have very particular skills usually find favor over those with broader knowledge. Hiring specialists over generalists ensures efficiency and smooth operation.
Based on this model, employees are typically encouraged to focus on honing only a few skills which have the most direct impact on their work. Specialists become even more specialized as they continue to work for a company.
However, this approach can backfire during times of uncertainty and change. Specialists lose their ability to be flexible, as they became accustomed to solving the same problems. When confronted with a new scenario, they might find it hard to adjust.
Hence, building a diverse skill set can is required to survive in a dynamic workplace. People can start by exploring related fields that are not directly related to their work. Some take it a step further by encouraging others to learn two completely unrelated skills.
Having good knowledge of other fields allows people to see different perspectives when confronted with novel situations. Having a diverse skill set helps people become more agile in their careers.
Many adults believe that learning stops after they leave formal schooling. They think of learning as sitting in a classroom and listening as a teacher drones on for hours. Many adults who are tired of formal education breathe a sigh of relief once they graduate and join the workforce.
However, not everyone realizes that they are still learning while on the job. Organizations expect new hires to adapt to the culture of the organization and the demands of the job. Some corporations hold classes and training sessions for recruits!
Many people do not realize the value of learning, but it is essential for career growth. Learning takes center stage especially in times of change, as people need to learn diverse skills to enable them to continue working in dynamic environments.
To become more flexible employees, people should always take any opportunity to learn. They should continuously learn, whether through books, videos, or physical classes. They should learn from mistakes, and they should
When people first try out a particular job, they are typically more open to experiences and learning opportunities. They are still unfamiliar and inexperienced with the job requirements, and for many people, this results in discomfort. People crave for what is familiar, and unfamiliarity makes them go out of their comfort zones.
As people gain experience in their roles, they start to recognize what precisely the job demands of them. This realization helps them become more comfortable with their position. The experience also makes them faster and better at their jobs. However, all of these comes at the cost of flexibility, as there is less need to remain open-minded.
To stimulate creative thinking, some organizations use role rotations. By regularly switching job roles, people remain at the state where they are more open and flexible to change. This systematic policy ensures flexibility in the workplace.
As mentioned before, intentional change is better than an unexpected one. The former allows for greater autonomy, enabling people to steer transition towards goals that they desire. Meanwhile, the latter reduces available strategies to reactive ones, severely limiting the ability of employees to direct their activities. Hence, planning is essential in encouraging flexibility and managing change.
Planning also reduces the risk inherent in embracing flexibility. People should plan for failure by preparing mitigation and backup plans for when things go wrong. They should also have an arrangement for learning from failures and applying any lessons learned into future scenarios.
At the same time, people should not be tied down by their plans. Creating plans that are too rigid defeats the original purpose of developing flexibility. People should use them as guides, not as crutches. If used appropriately, they can help people adopt work flexibility faster and with less hassle.
Rapid prototyping is a concept borrowed from the principles of design thinking, a framework for developing solutions to problems that emphasized quick testing of ideas. In this framework, people first create a multitude of preliminary schemes.
Prototypes emerge from these ideas to facilitate testing. Prototypes can be physical objects representing the idea, or they can be abstract concepts that have been fleshed out. Prototypes undergo testing, and the most promising proceed to further processing.
The main point of rapid prototyping is that at the initial stages, the number of ideas is more significant rather than the quality of ideas. People tend to shoot down ideas prematurely. Rapid prototyping encourages the opposite approach of letting ideas develop a bit first before selecting the most viable ones.
Rapid prototyping encourages creativity, and it is a way of thinking that is compatible with work flexibility.
Becoming more flexible at work, like any other goal, needs to be adequately planned. People should set proper goals to ensure that the process leads to favorable outcomes. They should also know their progress at any time so that they can make appropriate adjustments at any time.
However, many people neglect the usefulness of evaluation. They become too focused on working towards their goals, and then they become surprised when they find out that they missed their targets. Constantly evaluating progress ensures that people are still working towards goals and that they are doing work that brings them closer to their aim.
Once individuals have developed their capability towards flexible thinking, the flexibility mindset must apply to teams and groups. This approach further inculcates the flexibility culture in the organization.
Some organizations tend to discourage feedback. In these organizational cultures, superiors tend to think of feedback as annoyances and threats to their power. They actively discourage discourse, leading to employees that restrain themselves from giving comments.
However, restraining feedback can easily backfire, as this suppressed communication within teams. To become more productive, organizations must be able to communicate ideas openly, without the threat of unfair criticism.
Leaders should actively ask for feedback from team members, and anyone should be allowed to raise comments and challenge ideas. This flexible system ensures that teams are more responsive to dynamic environments.
Typically, there are three main team structures. A wheel structure sees a single leader coordinating all the functions of the team. A chain structure also has one leader, but there is also a hierarchy of order which everyone has a place in. Unlike the first two structure, the net structure has no one leader across all scenarios. In this structure, everyone is encouraged to communicate with everyone else.
The net structure is the structure that encourages open collaboration. Teams should try to adopt structures that are closest to the net structure to promote flexibility.
Rigid leadership styles can be harmful to flexibility. By discouraging open discussion and emphasizing that only leaders can make decisions, these styles promote the opposite of work flexibility. Instead, teams should adopt leadership styles that foster collaboration and cooperation.
There are many frameworks currently being used by firms to analyze problems and test solutions. Many of these frameworks, such as Scrum and Agile, are favored by startups, which need to be as flexible as they can to survive.
Just note that some of these frameworks apply to specific industries only. However, there is at least one flexible framework that applies to any given field. Try to test these out and find one that is applicable for your company.
In the interest of reducing costs, some corporations discourage risk-taking. Management in these organizations believes that there is no sense in innovating unless “something is not working.” Teams in these organizations tend to adopt similar work styles, making it especially challenging to develop a flexibility mindset here.
To compensate, teams should be encouraged to take more risks, even if it means that they are more likely to make mistakes. Only be embracing risk can organizations become more innovative.
Companies tend to look at conflict as something that they must avoid at all costs. However, there are several types of conflict, and not all are harmful. While disputes relating to work relationships are always detrimental to performance, those arising from ideas should be encouraged. This type of conflict helps increase creativity and encourages flexible collaboration with others.
Management should not eliminate this conflict type. Instead, leaders should manage it so that it leads to more creative employees without causing rifts between workers.
Classic brainstorming involves everyone trying to come up with as many ideas as possible. A problem with this approach is that people tend to criticize ideas as soon as someone presents a suggestion.
They shoot down many potentially good ideas this way. Another problem is that people tend to produce fewer notions, as others stop creating theirs as they hear out those of other people.
Alternative to brainstorming usually includes an initial phase where people work privately at first. It enables people to develop ideas on their own before presenting them to other people.
A large part of flexibility includes promoting work-life balance. Technology has given people more opportunities to work outside of the typical workplace. These options are relatively new, but they are slowly gaining a foothold in an increasing number of organizations.
In most companies, employees are expected to stick to a specific work schedule, day after day and week after week. Flextime programs allow people more freedom in this aspect. Flextime schedules permit people to choose the time they will enter and leave the office, as long as they fulfill a certain amount of hours at work per week.
Flextime programs can improve work-life balance by allowing employees to adjust their schedules according to what they wish. For example, employees might prefer to go early to the office to avoid traffic, then leave early to have more time for family bonding.
Many corporations practice a four- or five-day work week, where employees work from eight to nine hours a day. While this setup works for many people, a significant fraction of employees would benefit from a more compressed workweek. In such structures, employees render up to ten hours a day but are only expected to go to work for around three days a week.
A compressed workweek setup gives employees an extra day or two, which they can use for personal reasons. For some people, this gives them greater freedom over work-life balance. They can use the extra day to catch up with family and friends or to cater to their hobbies. Some people even use this as a chance to work on a side hustle or a part-time job.
In job-sharing, two or more employees take on the responsibilities of a single full-time worker. This technique capitalizes on the fact that there are a lot of people who are fully qualified for a job but are unable to render full-time service. This category usually applies to people who might be recovering from injuries, to expectant parents, or to people who are taking up multiple part-time jobs.
Job-sharing can also be useful when a full-time worker suddenly has to take a leave of absence. The setup gives jobs to multiple people and gives everyone flexible options to keep on working.
Most jobs only require an internet connection, software, and the skills of an employee. For these jobs, employees might benefit if they have the option to telecommute. Defined as working in places other than in a physical office, telecommuting involves working in a virtual office, which in many cases only requires a laptop.
Telecommuting can help people save on their expenses and time, as they no longer have to commute. In addition, they are free to budget their time as they wish, as long as they still meet targets and goals.
Overtime is a dreaded word for many employees, and for a good reason. Many managers set very ambitious goals that require people to avail of overtime for them to have a chance at completing these goals.
Managers should be more considerate of how employees use overtime, as continuous overtime can take its toll on mental health. Even if it is detrimental to their well-being, workers keep working beyond regular hours because they believe the organization expects it of them. Managers then should break up goals into smaller milestones to prevent cramming. Finally, they should make sure that goals are challenging but attainable.
Is there a tradeoff between flexibility and efficiency? It depends. In relatively stable industries, flexibility typically takes a backseat to effectiveness. However, most organizations are changing rapidly due to technological advancement. In these industries, flexibility becomes a necessity and becomes one of the factors affecting efficiency.
What must I look for when trying to hire flexible people? The top personality trait that differentiates flexible people is open-mindedness. Recruiters should make sure to measure how open their applicants are. Additional characteristics to look out for include propensity towards creative thinking and innovation, as well as conscientiousness and self-efficacy.
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