The future of work is unlikely to look like the traditional workplace of today. Work is less likely to be tethered to the places and times that have been important to this point as new technologies enable greater flexibility and globalisation renders time zones less relevant. Much of the work that drives our knowledge-based economy will be specialised, and more employees will view their work as connected with their own individual purpose. Different industries and employers will experience these changes to greater or lesser degrees. As traditional ways of working are disrupted, CEOs and executive leadership teams will increasingly need the skills to reimagine the way work gets done, and the leadership skills to implement new and more flexible ways of working.
When an organisation takes a strategic approach to implementing flexible working arrangements, flexibility capability is viewed as an important organisational issue, rather than an issue confined to the relationship between an employee and manager. When issues are seen as organisational, rather than individual, there is often a parallel realisation that they need to be dealt with comprehensively, taking into account every part of the organisation. In the case of flexibility, the transformation that occurs when an organisation improves its flexibility capability is far-reaching. It can involve creating new processes and systems around work to enable a wholly different way of doing work. It can require managers and employees to change the way they work. It can also require new infrastructure or technology. Organisations need to create a holistic, integrated implementation approach that involves all the key players who can enable flexibility.
Types of workplace flexibility
When developing a flexibility strategy, organisations should consider the full suite of flexible working arrangements that can be offered. Flexible work options may include: flexible hours of work, compressed working weeks, time-in-lieu, telecommuting, part-time work, job sharing, and other choices about the timing of work.
Flexibility improves gender equality
The achievement of flexibility is a key driver and enabler of gender equality in workplaces. Access to flexibility in the workplace at all levels enables greater access to roles and leadership positions across an organisation for both women and men. Lack of flexibility has been shown as one of the primary barriers to greater workforce participation of women. There are significant gender differences in the uptake of flexible work. Currently women are more likely to utilise part-time work, parental leave and other non-standard working patterns, resulting in increased gender inequality in access to quality work and promotions. There currently are fewer opportunities for combining flexible work, especially part-time work, with management and supervisory positions, which are traditionally dominated by men.
Many women and men don’t conform to the full-time worker mould; they have other priorities and aspirations such as pursuing additional study, approaching retirement or being active and engaged parents. Targeted research shows that flexibility is a key driver for all these groups of women and men at work, not just those with young children. Providing flexible working arrangements for all employees and reducing work/life conflict has clear benefits for employers. Supporting men to work flexibly often enables women’s increased participation in the workforce; a key to achieving gender equality.
Under the Fair Work Act 2009, certain employees may request a flexible working arrangement under certain circumstances. The National Employment Standards that are part of the Fair Work Act 2009 require employers to consider employees’ requests for flexibility. The Fair Work Act 2009 also prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of factors such as family or carer’s responsibilities, among other things, and makes provision for ‘individual flexibility arrangements’. To better understand your organisation’s obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.