Flexible Work Styles and Their Place in the Future of Work 

By Cultivate Labs on August 01, 2017

While the future of work will be increasingly measured, it will also be more flexible. The transition to flexible work styles has been creeping into organizations for a long time, but acceptance and adoption of such practices has rapidly increased in past years due to advancements in technology and a new generation flooding into the workforce. Millennials (those born between 1980-2000) will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 and are well-known for how they are reshaping the future of work, but they aren't the only ones to benefit from a new structure of work. 

One out of eight adults belongs to the 'sandwich generation' referring to the growing population of adults in their 30s and 40s who are caring for both their children and their aging parents. As the demands on caregivers grow, flexible work styles facilitate their ability to stay in the workforce and shift their work around personal responsibilities. For millennials, the driving factors in choosing a job aren't financial (though they do expect a certain, basic level of compensation), but rather finding a job where they have purpose, feel valued, have opportunities for learning and progression, and flexible work arrangements. Practically growing up teething on an iPhone, this tech savvy generation is accelerating the adoption of flexible work styles, from which we can all benefit whether we have caregiving responsibilities, want to move around and take our jobs with us, tap into the global pool of talent, or better engage our employees. 

What Exactly is a Flexible Work Style?

It's just as it sounds. Flexible. Meaning that flexible work styles can take many different forms. Thanks to technology, we are increasingly mobile and constantly connected. We can work anywhere that has a WiFi signal, no longer confined to an office or even our homes, taking advantage of coffee shops, time spent in airports and on the plane, even in the back of a cab (people still take those right?)!  

Depending on the size and needs of your organization, how you integrate a flexible work arrangement will vary greatly. And that's the beauty of it - you can design a solution that works for you and your employees. 

Common flexible work styles include:

  • Working remotely/telecommuting: either part time such as one day a week or full-time
  • Shifted hours/flextime: work days scheduled different from the typical 9-5 to accommodate timezones, caregiving responsibilities, traffic etc...
  • Compressed weeks: like a 4/10 plan of four 10 hour work days in a workweek or summer hours with reduced days
  • Flex time off/unlimited vacation: allowing employees to take time as they need it rather than dolling out a certain number of paid-time-off (PTO) days for vacation, sick days, and holidays
  • Job sharing: splitting the responsibilities of a single job between people who work fewer days per week

Maybe one of these is right for your organization and team, maybe a combination is, or maybe you develop another method that does work for you. 

Pros and Cons of Flexible Works Styles - For Employers and Employees

There are many advantages and disadvantages of flexible arrangements both for employees and employers that you should consider. 

Cons of Flexible Work Arrangements

Disadvantages for Employers:

  1. Relinquishing control is difficult for leaders who are accustomed to traditional, structured organizations as it requires a lot of trust to allow employees to work flexibly. But I've got news for you, the butt-in-seat approach doesn't mean employees are being productive - slackers will always be slackers, and workers will always deliver results, even if they are out of eyesight.
  2. Company culture is difficult to build if some, or all, of the team doesn't physically work together. Culture is based on relationships, and you can't build strong relationships exclusively in the digital realm of email and Slack. 
  3. Not all jobs can function flexibly, which makes it difficult to allow some of your team to work flex schedules and not others.

Disadvantages for Employees: 

  1. The separation between work and life become blurred when your situation is non-traditional as you may feel pressure to be available all the time. 
  2. Working remotely can be isolating as you don't have interpersonal connections with your colleagues, you miss out on business chatter in the office making you feel behind or left out, and you begin to miss simply seeing other humans throughout the day. 
  3. You may feel the need to justify your time or effort if your boss or colleague can't see what you are working on on a daily basis. 

Pros of Flexible Work Arrangements

Advantages for Employers:

  1. Your talent pool is global. If you are unable to find the right talent in your location and are able to accommodate remote workers, your talent pool just got a lot bigger. 
  2. Reduced overhead costs by downsizing or eliminating unnecessary office space, services, and supplies if your in-office headcount shrinks. 
  3. Inclement weather doesn't shut the office if people are able to work from home. But consider a fun treat for employees by offering a 'powder day' to take advantage of spending time with family because everyone needs a snow day every once in a while!
  4. Staff up and down as needed to adjust for seasonal work, hiring for termed contracts, or temporary needs for a certain area of expertise. 

Advantages for Employees: 

  1. Flexible work styles accommodate life, is the biggest advantage and allow freedom to take care of young children or aging parents, take your work with you when you move, re-enter the workforce on your terms as a new parent, make it to a midday dentist appointment or be home for the repairman.  
  2. The time saved commuting can be huge! That's roughly two hours a day or 40 hours a month (an entire work week!) that you get back to spend with family or engage with what you care about in your personal life instead of in rush hour traffic and packed trains.
  3. Work as little or as much as you want in the myriad of flexible work situations provided by the freelance and gig economies. 

Talk to your people about what type of flexible work situation they are looking for and explore the pros and cons for you and your employees. Set clear expectations such as certain hours that everyone needs to work or days everyone needs to be in the office, and most importantly, communicate often. Know what kind of leader you are and discuss that with your team. Are you the type that doesn't need to know what/where/when they are doing work and just want to see results? Or do you need to have consistent touch points and reports to stay informed? Flexible work schedules aren't for everyone, but they will continue to be incorporated into the future of work, so begin to examine how they might play a role in your organization. 

Practicing What We Preach - Our Flexible Work Arrangements at Cultivate Labs

At Cultivate Labs, I can honestly say that we practice what we preach. I'm the newest to join the team, having joined in March 2017, and I work remotely full-time from Denver. My past experience both at established corporations and other startups, made me hesitant to believe that "flexible work schedule" was more than just talk, a marketing/recruitment tool. But, here it's the real deal.

I work remotely full-time. The rest of the team in Chicago is also flexible, in and out of the office as needed, with Thursdays as mandatory office days. We check in every morning on Slack, and teammates work from home when the weather is bad, the repairman is coming, or it's their turn for daycare drop-off, and it's 100% acceptable. When I asked Adam, our CEO, how he felt about my taking a vacation he said, "I love vacation. You should take one!" Everyone takes time off and is never made to feel guilty about it as long as quality work gets done. 

There are certainly challenges of starting a new job remote, but we work to make sure that it is beneficial for myself and the team. We are great at some things, like having standing touchpoints, but still need to work on others, like connecting more on the phone rather than Slack. I find it impossible to work in complete isolation, and Cultivate was happy to accommodate my request to join a co-working space, which has the added benefit of the various talented professionals, whom I can tap for help or advice. Our founders, Adam and Ben, put a lot of trust in me to work remotely full-time as a new member of the team, but they truly run our company based on the principles we preach. I know how valuable that trust is to allow us so much freedom, and I want to do everything I can to work hard and prove that I deserve that trust.

My desk in the space I share with an artist at  Converge Denver co-working

Flexible Work Styles Will be Common in the Future of Work

Technology, a new generation in the workforce, and increased demands on our responsibilities are changing the structure of work from the  '9-5 office job at a single company' to something far more flexible. If you haven't already begun to assess or implement similar structures in your organization, it is likely that you will have a difficult time retaining talent as they move on to organizations that are better able to meet their needs. Both employers and employees can and will benefit from flexible work situations. When determining what flex style works for your organization, make sure to include your people in the discussion to understand what is important to them and help them understand what is important to you. 

Even industries like big pharma are beginning to embrace the future of work. One of our clients, a large biopharma company, in its second round of internal crowdfunding with Ignite has seen an increase in ideas about improving company culture through flexible work arrangements that would allow for lab sharing, timesharing to collaborate with coworkers, and non-traditional office spaces. They asked their employees what they want, and employees are clearly speaking up. 

People want to be treated as, well, people, not a cog in the machine, and since employee-employer relationships no longer last a lifetime, people move freely to find an organization that will meet their needs. It's not rocket science, but if you treat your people well, you'll create a culture of loyalty and dedication with talent that will help carry you into the future.

Are you prepared? 


Interested in the future trends of work? You might be interested in: How Your Car's Gas Gauge is Like the Future of Work or download our whitepaper.

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Cathryn Wile

By Cathryn Wile


futureofwork disruptive leadership