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Expectations for flexible working up to 75%, what can be done?

By Catherine Knowles, 30 Aug 2021

More employees are wanting flexibility in their role but aren't getting it, according to new research from global analyst firm Gartner.

The Gartner 2021 EVP Employee Survey revealed less than one-third of non-knowledge workers have flexibility in any area of their work.

Meanwhile, the Gartner 2021 Hybrid Workforce Panel Survey revealed that 75% of knowledge workers have increased expectations for working flexibly in the future.

Gartner defines knowledge workers as those whose jobs involve handling or using information, in occupations such as writers, accountants, marketers or engineers.

Commenting on the broader trend, Gartner HR practice director Alexia Cambon says, “Even employees in roles that have not traditionally been thought of as flexible, such as retail employees, on-site essential personnel or IT field technicians, are seeking more flexibility and ownership over their work.”

Gartner has identified three key ways HR leaders can expand the flexibility they offer to employees who are operating outside the traditional office setting. According to the analysts, they can identify norms that help provide flexibility, determine activities within roles that can be flexible, and source best practices from managers and cross-functional teams.

Identify norms

Gartner suggests that organisations must first establish norms around what specifically empowers employees to complete their work.

This approach allows business units, teams and individual employees to be accountable for their work, and allows more freedom for individuals to choose the work style and preferences that align with their needs and those of their team.

According to Gartner, HR leaders should facilitate manager/employee conversations by equipping managers to determine the type of work styles that meet business objectives and how these can be adjusted to support more flexibility.

For example, most of the time, call centre employees do not have flexibility over when, where or how much they work.

However, managers can set expectations for the work that must get done, the number of days to do it and how many employees are available to work. That enables employees to ask for flexibility more confidently in the days, times and type of work they perform, Gartner states.

Determine key activities 

HR leaders can help managers understand their employees’ work by prompting managers to map out the activities that make up an employee’s job, according to the analysts.

Rather than classifying jobs themselves as remote or on-site, breaking down each job into a list of its associated activities, and analysing which can be performed in any location, enables greater flexibility for all employees, Gartner states.

Cambon says, “There are often hidden opportunities for flexibility in all roles, even those commonly considered ineligible.

"For example, while the role of IT and tech support often has an inflexible on-call component, some tasks like answering queries can be done successfully under a more flexible arrangement.

"Identifying these hidden pockets of flexibility will go a long way in providing the sense of autonomy that employees crave.”

Source best practices

Traditionally, most organisations lean on HR leaders to identify solutions to improve flexible work environments. However, HR leaders and their teams often lack firsthand experience managing non-knowledge workers.

As a result, Gartner states HR leaders should collaborate with managers throughout the organisation who manage various employee segments and may already be implementing best practices for providing flexibility in their teams.

Additionally, HR leaders can assemble a cross-functional team to gain further understanding of how to extend flexibility for all employees. This approach allows HR to utilise the expertise and understanding of different business leaders and more importantly, empowers organisational collaboration.

Gartner HR practice senior principal Emily Strother says, “When organisations deliver radical flexibility, the percentage of employees who are defined as high performers increases by 40%.

"Leading organisations can drive performance by providing flexibility on all aspects of their work, and recognising their workforce comprises of people, not just employees.”

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