Reimagining the employee experience to tackle the downside of flexibility

Nancy Lan
By Nancy Lan | 15 February 2022
Nancy Lan.

 By Nancy Lan, National MD, Starcom

Much has been written about flexible working, often heralded as the silver lining of the pandemic. Like many in our industry, I’ve been quick to speak with pride about how adaptive and flexible we’ve been as an agency. “We’ve hired people all around the country and beyond – in Norfolk Island, Central Coast and New Zealand”, “we’re focused on output and behaviour”, I recently heard myself declare proudly at a BBQ with friends.

But is there a downside we’re not talking about? Is my flexibility inhibiting someone else’s growth and progression?   

As humans, our very existence has relied on our ability to adapt, and boy have we adapted. We’ve evolved from a forced short-term, work-from-home experiment, to an adaptive and hybrid approach which has reaped many benefits.

We know that broadly speaking, employees prefer greater flexibility. Accenture’s 2021 Future of Work Study found that 83% of workers preferred a hybrid model, and 85% of those who work for companies which have adopted a ‘productivity can be everywhere’ approach said they planned to stay with their company for a long time… pretty favourable data for an industry battling an extreme talent shortage.

We also know that flexibility is good for productivity, with numerous studies from the Journal of Management proving positive gains when people have more control over their work day, and are able to avoid the various distractions of the physical office. 

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly to financial analysts, flexibility is good for bottom-line growth. The same Accenture study showed 63% of high-growth organisations embraced a ‘productivity anywhere’ workforce model. It’s been such a successful experiment that 74% of CFOs in a Gartner CFO Survey said they intended to shift some of their workforce to remote work permanently, post pandemic.  

Flexible working has undoubtedly been a positive evolution. Certainly for me, as a seasoned professional who has spent a decade working within a group, I have built up a network and equity over time.

But are the benefits equally and equitably distributed?

Speaking with a coordinator who started with us last year, I heard an engaged and eager talent share the difficulty of starting his career at home. He spoke of the challenges of learning a new craft without face-to-face interaction. How small queries could not be answered by peering over the monitor but required a scheduled call with his manager.

It took me back to my first job where the quick conversation in the kitchen was incrementally additive to the formal training. He also spoke of his desire to be back in the office ASAP and as much as possible.

So I found myself asking the question, is my flexibility impacting his growth and his ability to network with his agency leadership in an organic way? Because if I’m exercising flexibility, who will he learn from when he’s in the office? Who will he network with?

Of course, the discussion about the future of work is multi-dimensional, and whether a partially remote or fully virtual workforce will be the way of that future is yet to be seen.

While we continue to navigate the magic of flexibility and connectivity, one thing is certain, the one-way train has left the station and there is no going back.

Just as we are helping our clients navigate their DTC journey and transform their CX to be more digitally and experience lead, we need to reimagine a new employee experience that meets the need of the hybrid environment today, and the potential virtual world of tomorrow.

As a leader, I am challenging our team to work hard at creating an employee experience which provides equal opportunities for those starting out their careers, and those who choose to spend less time in the physical office.

This requires planning, discipline and creativity – planning in accessing the right tools, technology and training anywhere; discipline in how we set out fair and equitable development and performance plans; and creativity in how we re-think networking and the ‘open door’ policy in an increasingly virtual world.

As a leader I am also asking myself, how will I exercise my flexibility so that I can be there for my team? And what sacrifices in flexibility am I willing to make for my coordinator and younger staff so they can excel?

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