The #1 Thing That Gets in the Way of Flexible Work

LinkedIn recently published its “2019 Global Talent Trends” report, which identified what it calls “the 4 trends transforming your workplace”.

They compiled this report based on surveying over 5,000 talent professionals across 35 countries, and also incorporated vast amounts of data from the online behaviour of LinkedIn members. Given their unique access to leaders, experts, and employees worldwide, when LinkedIn says something about the future of work, it’s worth taking notice!

It came as no surprise to me (and to many of the forward-thinking people leaders I work with) that one of these four trends is work flexibility. The other three are just as interesting, but let’s focus on this one for now …

What is flexible work?

When we say “flexible work”, that could mean a number of different things. For some people, having “flexitime” – where they can choose their start and end time each day (within limits) – is enough. For others, they want complete flexibility in when, how, and where they work. And there’s everything in between.

Obviously, this varies across different jobs and roles. Some people need to be there in person (a pilot can’t work from home when she’s supposed to be flying the plane!) and others need to be there at specific times (a salesperson must fit in with his customers’ working hours). But in many cases – especially for knowledge workers – you could offer more flexible work, if you put your mind to it.

LinkedIn is not alone!

There’s plenty of research showing the best people want more flexibility in how, when and where they work – for example:

  • 81% of employees want to be trusted when, where and how they work (Sage People)
  • 35% of people are choosing freelance work (Forbes)
  • 75% of UK employees want flexible working, and nearly a third prefer flexible work over a pay rise (Sage People)
  • 47% of Australian workers would accept a pay cut for more flexible working hours (Robert Half)

Make no mistake – the best people expect it now, and it could be a significant factor in whether they choose to work for you (or stay with you).

So, is it a no-brainer?

If you’re a leader who wants to attract and keep the best people, it seems like a no-brainer to offer them more flexible work, right?

Not so fast!

Yes, it’s a good idea in principle, but it’s not always so easy to put into practice.

Of course, there are some infrastructure things to consider – such as IT setup, HR policies, legal issues, running virtual meetings, and so on. But these are all relatively easy to address.

The biggest problem might be you!

Do you have the right mindset to make it work?

The big difference is that you must change your focus from inputs to outputs.

For example, when people work together in an office, they all see each other’s inputs: when they arrive (especially if it’s late), when they leave (especially if it’s early), what they do at work, and whether they’re “busy”. As a leader, you might be subconsciously influenced by these inputs, even if you claim to only measure their results.

When you have team members working remotely, you can no longer see their inputs, so you must rely on outputs. Instead of monitoring their processes, activity and time spent, you only measure the results they achieve, the quality of their work, and their contribution towards achieving your goals.

You might think it’s easy to focus on outputs, but it’s not. It’s not easy to change this mindset, especially if you have become unconsciously competent in the old way of leading people. But if you don’t make the shift, you won’t attract the best people, and those you have now won’t stay.

If you’re ready to step up, you might like this video, where I share 10 ideas for enabling and encouraging flexible work in your teams and organisation:

What Next?

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