The Flexible Work Revolution: Embracing Change in a Business World

by Rob Sheppard

[Approx 4.5 min read]

SME business owners face many challenges in today’s constantly changing employment landscape.

A growing challenge that is not going away post-Covid, is the demand for flexible work arrangements from teams who have enjoyed the positive impact this has had on their lives.

It is also a legislated area of the workplace – as many business owners are finding out.

While compliance with laws is obviously essential, I thought I’d shed some light on why embracing flexibility goes beyond these mere legal obligations and reasons you might refuse.

What the pandemic taught us

COVID-19 reshaped the way a LOT of industries work.

It forced businesses across these industries to adapt and introduce employees to remote / flexible work (in some cases, these were not requests but rather directions).

it is no longer seen as a response to a crisis

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2021) reported at the time that almost four out of five employers had formalised some form of flexible work arrangements in these early days.

In Hr terms, this was a seismic shift in the traditional structure of work.

With hindsight, this shift not only allowed employees to maintain their productivity but also improved their overall well-being during lockdown after lockdown.

As businesses grapple with what a flexible workplace means in 2024, many are also recognising the importance of flexibility as a strategic advantage – it is no longer seen as just a response to a crisis; it has become a valuable tool for attracting and retaining top talent.

Where it works best

Flexible work can often be particularly successful in knowledge-based industries, such as IT, finance, accounts (and even HR).

These are professions and roles where work outcomes can be measured by deliverables rather than hours worked.

Remote work, part-time schedules and job sharing can be incredibly effective in these sectors and roles, improving job satisfaction and productivity at the same time.

where work outcomes can be measured by deliverables rather than hours

Where it might cause a problem

It’s essential to acknowledge that not all industries or roles are well-suited for flexible work.

For example, in customer-facing or ‘on-site’ work environments like hospitality, healthcare or construction where a physical presence is often required to perform the work. Offering flexibility in this instance can pose very real operational challenges.

These types of businesses and industries therefore have the additional challenge of finding more creative ways to manage flexibility requests.

It could be creating opportunities for skill development, offering flexible scheduling within established boundaries or providing recognition and career advancement prospects towards another role in the near future.

environments where a physical presence is often required to perform the work

When considering solutions, care must always be given to activities that align with the nature of the work and the needs of employees and the business.

The gender perspective

Deloitte has undertaken research these last few years (Women@Work Survey 2023) which has added another critical dimension to the discussion around flexible work.

The study specifically highlighted that women often place more emphasis on when they work rather than where they work.

Many women also raised concerns about the potential consequences of having—or even just requesting—more flexible working hours on their job.

more emphasis on when they work rather than where they work

Interestingly, Deloitte’s research showed a strong correlation between how much flexibility women are offered and how long they plan to stay with their employer. The survey indicated that two-thirds of women in highly flexible work arrangements said they planned to stay with their employer for more than three years, compared to only 19 percent of women who have no flexibility.

It is easy to see how to retain top female talent at least.

What does this all mean?

For business owners and leaders, it’s crucial to prepare for a future where flexible work is here to stay.

Here are 4 thoughts to start that process:

  1. Tailored
    • Research and then implement flexible work policies that align with your industry’s specific needs and consider the gender-related preferences of your workforce.
  2. Technology
    • Invest in technology to facilitate remote work, collaboration and monitoring (productivity is not a bad word).
  3. Well-being
    • Consider the mental and physical well-being of your humans when weighing up work. The legislation is already pushing you to this anyway so get ahead of the pack and the regulators.
  4. Feedback
    • We’re fan favourites of this at QHr. Encourage open communication to understand needs and adapt accordingly. You’ll be battling human nature to ‘not tell the boss’ but be persistent and genuine.

is not just about compliance, it’s about staying competitive

My final #robservation…

Embracing flexible work is not just about compliance with the law; it’s about staying competitive and meeting the evolving expectations of a modern workforce and the needs of the business.

Being well-prepared means you are one step ahead of most – and as the laws start to demand answers for why you might refuse, you’ll either genuinely have those or be in the position to never need to explain.

And if it’s all still confusing?

If you’re a business owner grappling with the intricacies of awards or concerned about the potential risks of non-compliance, don’t wait until it’s too late. Reach out to us for guidance and support as our team of experts is here to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of employment regulations in Australia.