Melding Flexibility and Connectivity in the Workplace

The pandemic has had a profound effect on how workers, managers and the organisations that employ them think about flexibility and connectivity at work.

Leaders are keen to increase their access to wider, deeper talent ecosystems, while workers have enjoyed experimenting with the parameters of place and time at work and want to incorporate a range of activities – including education, family life, and side businesses – into their working lives.

Traditionally, organisations have focused on the availability and connectivity of talent – in the form of full-time employees – rather than flexibility, autonomy and agility. So, what changes do they need to make to ensure everyone gets what they want?

Think of talent as accessed, not owned. Many organisations are stuck in a mentality where their employees belong exclusively to them – and their contracts and role structure reflect this. A more blended workforce needs a nuanced approach – one where workers have greater autonomy as well as access to benefits, income stability and an ongoing relationship with the organisation. Companies like Unilever have successfully piloted this approach.

Embrace role sharing. Organisations have often shied away from role sharing, but it can be the perfect solution for roles that are hard to fill, or which require a higher level of continuity. From the employees’ point of view, role sharing doesn’t just provide flexibility, but also a close peer who shares and understands your challenges – something that can be especially valuable in more senior roles.

Learn from others. Before starting your own experiment, explore what others have done to help you understand potential pitfalls and set realistic expectations. For example, role sharing data from the UK Civil Service can help you understand what sort of increases in productivity to expect.

Avoid one size fits all. It is important to understand from the outset that just as with remote working, these blended approaches are not suitable for all roles. Consider carefully how each role is constructed and how work gets done, and identify the ones where added flexibility will add the most opportunity and value.

Ultimately, the best route for most organisations sits somewhere between full-time work and contract work – and the exact formula will be different for each organisation. Leaders must be brave enough to experiment with ways of combining employees and external workers to develop the perfect blend of talent.

Read HSM Advisory CEO and founder Prof. Lynda Gratton’s latest MIT Sloan Management Review article here for further insights on building flexibility and connectivity.