Pros and cons of flexible working
Hybrid workplace

Pros and cons of flexible working

With flexible working establishing itself as a permanent fixture in the modern workplace, we take a look at the main pros and cons of this new way of working along with other factors to consider in the flexible working strategy.

June 16, 2023

Flexible working has become increasingly topical in the modern workplace. It is often considered a ‘drawcard’ many employees look for in their job search, or a perk some employers may highlight in their job ads.

Not only does it allow employees to better balance their work and personal lives, but it also has the potential to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, increase productivity and help the bottom line.

Of course navigating this new way of working is not without its challenges and there are some key considerations to keep in mind. This article seeks to uncover the potential pros and cons of flexible working and discusses its role in attracting retaining talent who are increasingly looking for flexible workplaces.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working can be defined in two ways: the first is providing the option for employees to choose their start and finishing times so as to accommodate other life commitments or to simply work the hours that suit their preferred working style. The second is by allowing flexibility around whether to work on site or from home. Depending on the company culture or the type of work performed, paremeters may be established around the level of flexibility offered in terms of working hours or location.

Flexible work hours

Flexible work hours implies that employees are not constricted to the generic 9-5 window of being in the office which may not suit them every day of the week. Instead, a company may give a window of start and finishing times that ensure a certain level of continuity, guaranteed team meetings and access to all employees during certain hours. This could mean the option of starting between the hours of 7-9:30am and finishing between the hours of 3-7:30pm should they so wish. Employees with this level of flexibility are then able to coordinate school drop-offs and pick-ups, extra carricular activities such as sports and hobbies or merely working the hours where they feel most productive.

In addition to flexible hours of work as described above, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency of the Australian Government sites job sharing and compressed work weeks as other types of flexible working possibilities.

Flexible work location

Also known as hybrid working, or flexible hybrid working, the premise is that by allowing flexibility around work location - remote or on site throughout the week - employees and teams can structure their work weeks in a way that balances work and life commitments. The idea is that one doesn’t have to compromise the other. Again, company policy may determine the required ratio of presence in the office or define set days where certain team members work from home or from the office.

In a shared desking environment where there are less desks than employees, implementing hybrid working becomes a necessity. Companies are leveraging the popularity of hybrid working and seizing the opportunity to downsize their office space and desk availability. With this comes an important strategic question; whether to allow partial or complete flexibility or to lock in fixed days. With these approaches then comes the ever important desk sharing methodology; either the ‘first-in-best-dressed’ hot desking or the ‘advanced booking’, desk hotelling arrangement. Check out our article on the difference between these two methods.

Pros of flexible working

The pros of flexible working are profound and widereaching. They encompass a wide range of benefits from employee wellbeing and productivity to the spin off cost-saving benefits arising from space optimisation. Here is a breakdown of some of the most prevelant pros of flexible working:

1. Attracting and retaining the best talent:

It is no secret that there is increased demand for flexible working, all you need to do is look at LinkedIn job ads. In fact, a Forum Pulse Report by Smart Company showed that Australians desire flexibility more than any other nation citing that knowledge workers without flexible schedules were 2.6 times more likely to seek a new job that offered flexibility. Of the 10,000+ respondents, 37.5% expressed a desire for full flexibility with the exception of meetings and other fixed team commitments, with a further 23.8% preferring complete unfettered flexibility. Only 3.5% favoured preset, fixed schedules, lower than the global average of 5.9%.

When it comes to attracting millennials and gen-Z, flexibility is plays a vital role. Learn more about what these younger generational cohorts want in our article.

2. Fostering a worklife balance with little business impact:

A report by McCrindle revealed that on average, Australians spend 48 minutes per day commuting to work. In Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, workers commute for over an hour to an hour and a half on average. Giving this time back to workers eleviates the built up stress of the daily commute and allows them to spend it in more productive areas, be it personal or professional. An additional quick win for worklife balance is the possibility to coordinate start and finish times with home commitments more seamlessly.

3. Promoting employee wellbeing:

Flexible working rewards employees with the autonomy to balance their work and caring commitments and even make time for hobbies or fitness pursuits. A 2022 report by Swinburne University and Deloitte analysed 1,553 Australian knowledge workers about their views and experiences of flexible work and found that flexible work improves physical and mental health when guided by a clear, supportive framework. Unsurprisingly, hybrid working was twice as popular for employees with two or more dependents at home.

4. Improving the bottom line:

Flexible work arrangements allow employees to work more during the hours they are most productive, according to an article written by Forbes. Less distractions allows for greater focus and the aforementioned boost in wellbeing flows on to productivity and motivation.

Then there are the cost saving benefits being increasingly sought by companies where hybrid working has become cemented into their corporate strategy. Instead of paying a leasing premium for unused space or upsizing as the company grows, there are new-found downsizing and optimisation opportunities to ensure the right amount of space and resource distribution for onsite employees on a given day.  Discover more about space optimisation opportunities in our article.

Cons of flexible working

The cons, or perceived cons, of flexible working often surround productivity, consistency and connectedness among employees. Less accessibility to all workers in the office between the hours of 9-5 comes with its inherent challenges that need to be navigated such as:

1. Disparity in levels of employee presence:

Depending on the level of flexibility offered, there might be varying rates of employees in the office at any one time, either making the office feel like a ghost town or a nightclub from day to day. This not only makes it difficult to plan but can errode the company culture and restrict productivity due to limitted opportunities for face to face collaboration.

SOLUTION: some colleagues may make the commute for some piece and quiet in the office away from home while others might be coming in for the human connection and to touch base with their team. Whatever their reason, the Nura Space desk booking feature allows them to see the level of presence they can expect to find on the day they intend to come in and plan accordingly.

2. Ambiguity of employee obligations:

The study conducted by Swinburne and Deloitte concluded that the net gain in employee wellbeing and satisfaction was dependent on having a clear and well communicated framework around flexible working. In an environment where this is lacking, employees are left with a feeling of little control or clarity over their roles and obligations which can lead to frustration.

SOLUTION: consulting with employees to develop a framework that suits their task goals and working styles empowers teams to establish the clarity to know where they stand with flexible hybrid working and fill in any potential gaps. Whether this be completely flexible or somewhat structured with set targets on in-office days, admins can build it into the Nura Space platform and adjust as needed over time. Bookings can be made recurring and alerts can be set to rectify any shortfalls in office attendence.

3. Underutilisation of office space and resources:

Office space represents a significant investment for companies. In face the e-architect recommends budgeting $1,500-$2,500 per employee on office furnishing alone. With the evolution of workplace design to be more people-centric, it understandable that companies want their employees to get the most out of the purpose-designed workspace they have invested so heavily in.

SOLUTION: if hybrid is part of the plan, organisations can adjust their investment to match expected levels of building occupancy and optimise spend. Moreover, the demand for flexible office spaces is on the rise, allowing companies to remain agile and respond to the shift in demand for office resources. Of course, this agility assumes the ability to measure office utilisation and employee behaviours. By using a workplace management platform like Nura Space with built-in workplace analytics, employees book their resources in advance and companies can measure historic utilisation and patterns of behaviour to optimise the office space as needed.

Day to day obstacles of flexible working in a hybrid workplace

Without a planning framework or supporting tools in place, hybrid workplaces can be exposed to certain obstacles that could hinder diversity and inclusion inroads made within their organisation.

Working parents or carers and long commuters left behind

In a flexible hot desking environment, organisations can run into the issue where late arrivers end up with the least favourable desk or car space, or missing out altogether. Consider parents who do morning drop off or employees who commute far from regional areas and take advantage of flexible start and finishing times to avoid peak hour traffic.

Aside from the added time and stress of trying to find a desk - an average of 18 minutes according to the research - this undermines the compatability of flexibility with inclusion, especially if these employees are not present for important conversations and are disconnected from other team members.

Implementing a convenient desk booking system like Nura Space gives employees peace of mind that their preferred work point will be available for them when they arrive, also saving the time and stress of looking for a desk upon arrival.

Trouble locating or sitting near team members

Team members who arrive later might not be able to sit near their team, which could have been their reason for coming into the office in the first place. The Nura Space MyTeam interface gives employees a snapshot of their teams bookings and a live view of the respective positions on the floorplan.

This feature maximises opportunities for close collaboration and minimises proximity bias, in turn encouraging employees to make the effort to come in. Learn more about the phenomenon of proximity bias and how to avoid it.

A tool for balancing inclusivity and flexibility in a hybrid workplace

The Nura Space workplace management platform is designed by behaviour experts with flexible hybrid workplaces top of mind. You'd be hardpressed to find a dilemma or challenge it hasn’t thought of. We are also regularly consulting with our existing clients to add new exciting features on an ongoing basis.

So if any of the issues raised above present potential stumbling blocks for getting flexibility over the line in your organisation, reach out for a demo or even just a chat. No matter where your company is at in its hybrid journey, or even if the framework is not yet defined, our platform is completely scalable and easily customisable to each teams' unique needs and way of working.


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