Question: Building a flexible workplace

1. What are some action steps for building a culture of flexibility in the workplace?
2. What are some barriers to implementing workplace flexibility, and how can companies approach them?
3. What are some best practices for fostering flexibility that works for all employees and the business?
4. What are some ways to ensure flexibility is applied equally to all employees?
5. We're especially interested in concrete examples of flexible workplaces with information about how the employer fostered and encouraged a culture of flexibility.

2 Expert Insights

Here are some thoughts on creating a Flexible workplace:

Above all creating culture takes time. Don't think you are going to be able to enact a policy and things will change. culture is the collective understanding of the group as to how people will react to specific situations.  As a leader  you must talk about it, a lot.

If you aren't talking about your new flexible workplace culture so much that you are bored of the topic, you aren't talking about it enough. You think you say it and they hear you but you are always with you, your audience changes all the time.

Happy to share more but that is 5 sentences ;-)

Steps for building a culture of flexibility would include removing penalties for “failing”. In environments where “failure is not an option,” people will hesitate to try anything new. This, in turn, reinforces a “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality and rigid approaches to work.
I am also a fan of “skunkworks”. Skunkworks is the name given to allowing individuals or small teams to work on independent projects during their ordinary work hours that are documented, but otherwise free from customary constraints. Some companies will afford one entire day each week for such activities; others allow people to devote time throughout the week. The result is often quickly arrived at, innovative products or solutions to problems few had previously considered.
Employ Design Thinking. Like skunkworks, design thinking or human-centered design allows small teams to come up with and prototype new ideas quickly.

Barriers to implementation usually stem from someone’s insecurity. There is either a “control freak” manager, or someone who feels that he or she should be the “smartest person in the room”. These people will often constrain those around them from expressing novel ideas, challenging norms or organically forming cooperative teams. Loosening the grip on the reins will facilitate the process.

Best practices is a concept that may prove elusive initially. A flexible workplace, by definition, is one in which some controls have to be reduced or removed. The flip side to that coin, though, is that people can’t be allowed to run amok, either. A balance needs to be struck that may vary from environment to environment.

Likewise, how flexibility is extended to workers may depend on their role in the workplace. Some people must be present and fulfilling their duties during ordinary operating hours. Some can work flexible shifts or even from remote sites. However, one thing that can be done is to ensure that each employee feels that they are valued and that their role is seen as beneficial to the success of the organization as a whole.

Concrete examples – as an independent contractor/consultant, I seldom have the opportunity to see the programs implemented.