The Importance of Flexibility in Business

The Importance of Flexibility in Business

In today’s post-pandemic work environment, offering an enticing company culture that promotes flexible work schedules, remote work options, and a suitable work-life balance has never been more important. In fact, workplace flexibility often leads to greater employee satisfaction and retention.

Besides offering flexible work options (like remote work or a shortened workweek), businesses can implement other flex perks to attract the most diverse and qualified job candidates. Business flexibility can mean catering to workers’ needs and ensuring they have what they need to succeed.

For instance, one person may need to leave the office at 4:30 p.m. to bring their children to soccer practice, while another prefers to eat lunch at home so they can walk their dog. These accommodations don’t cost the business or take effort to implement, but they can help businesses save money in employee retention.

Are you ready to add flexible work schedules to your list of job perks? Keep reading to learn how the switch can benefit you and your team, learn about some implementation strategies, and discover examples of workplace flexibility.  

Why is flexibility important for business?

Business flexibility can serve many purposes. For example, it can help small business owners adjust if a part they need in order to make a product is unavailable due to shipping delays.

It can also allow you to keep one of your best team leaders after they have a child and need an adjusted schedule. It can even help you reimagine your office space when that team leader needs a place to use their breast pump (that extra-large, well lit, empty utility closet can be converted to a private lactation space).

We cover other ways business flexibility can improve your company culture and bottom line.

Improved response to market changes

Flexibility helps businesses respond to market changes quickly and effectively. Be on the lookout for opportunities to take advantage of unexpected changes in the market. If a new market becomes available or a product is suddenly in demand, it’s up to you to respond.

Greater flexibility also means you can capitalize on market shifts in real time. For instance, online marketplaces and delivery companies flourished when the pandemic forced people to shop online and have their groceries delivered. It was an excellent opportunity for small businesses to offer flexible shipping options and, when possible, local delivery.

Increased adaptability

Adapting to sudden changes in the market and elsewhere is critical for a business’s success. Adaptability allows you to use what you know to adjust your work environment and business methods as needed.

Microsoft is one example of an adaptable company. It’s transformed from a small business to a multibillion-dollar industry with the help of data and artificial intelligence-driven adaptations.

To succeed, Microsoft implemented adaptations throughout its entire workforce—from its Human Resources (HR) team and stakeholders to part-time and remote workers. Adjusting its company culture and ensuring all workers understood how to adapt to changing technology put Microsoft ahead of its competitors.

In short, Microsoft focused on four business adaptations using data and artificial intelligence to drive success. These four adaptations can be applied to any business:

  • Engage customers
  • Optimize operations
  • Transform products
  • Empower employees

Enhanced customer satisfaction

Flexibility helps businesses improve customer satisfaction in several ways. A remote workforce can handle customer service calls, emails, and online chats without extra office space.

A more robust weekend shift could help move products along in the supply chain, so they reach customers more quickly (some part-time workers may even prefer those hours so they can go to school during the week, for instance). An adjusted workday schedule could also mean small businesses open early or close late, depending on availability.

It’s well-known that happy workers tend to result in happy customers. As one Entrepreneur article says, “Studies confirm that employee happiness correlates with employee efficiency, creativity, and productivity. This, in turn, has the same effect on customers—proving that happy employees make customers happy.”

Adjustments like flexible work schedules, job sharing, and remote work options can be what your workers need to find happiness in their jobs (and remain friendly and helpful when handling customers).  

5 strategies for improving flexibility in business

Are you ready to take your workforce to the next level or adapt to a changing market? Below, we highlight five strategies for improving flexibility so you can adjust your policies and put your workers’ needs first.  

We also list two companies in each category leading the pack regarding business flexibility.

1. Embrace digital transformation

Today’s companies must embrace digital transformation to stay relevant in the global market (especially in the eyes of younger, more tech-savvy generations like millennials and Gen Zers). This means updating software and other critical programs and using technologies that make products less expensive and more accessible.

Begin with a goal or a “why” for your business, and be prepared to reimagine your business (and, at times, fail). Automate operations, use chatbots during customer support sessions, and ensure you can accept online currencies. Then, continue to review the digital transformation with your team and decide which implementations to keep and which to modify.

Some digital transformation leaders are:

  • Nike. This footwear behemoth uses algorithms and mobile applications to make the shoe-buying process easier and more tailored to each person’s needs. For instance, the Nike Fit mobile app can scan a customer’s foot to help them choose the right shoe.
  • Disney. Guests of Disney’s theme parks can use the MagicBand+ to enter the parks, make purchases, and access hotel rooms electronically.

2. Build a culture of innovation

An innovation-forward company culture can improve flexibility in your business. When you and your team consistently think ahead and follow cultural trends, you’re more likely to foresee customers’ desires before the competition.

Think about Uber and Lyft changing ride-hailing options or Airbnb and Vrbo making it easier to rent your home when you’re away. These innovations give customers more options and make your company stand out as a leader in the market.

Translate this to your own business: Maybe it looks like collecting customer feedback before making product decisions or selling gently used products in a recycling program. In any case, innovation should be a collaborative effort with your entire workforce. After all, two heads are better than one.  

Here are some other innovation leaders:

  • LEGO. Two decades ago, LEGO was well on its way to bankruptcy. It had too many brick-set options and was losing an enormous amount of profit daily. By scaling its offerings down, asking fans about their interests, and outsourcing workers for films and other projects, the company became the most profitable toy company in the world.
  • Apple. Apple ensures innovation by allowing its most talented and knowledgeable workers to be the decision-makers regarding new technologies. It also focuses on creating products that enrich customers’ lives (e.g., the Apple Watch and portrait lighting on the iPhone camera).

3. Encourage employee empowerment

For true business flexibility, you should encourage employee empowerment among your workforce. Employee empowerment means letting your workers have a certain degree of control over their workday, from giving them opportunities to fail and succeed to motivating them to share knowledge.

When you empower employees to take control of certain aspects of their jobs, you create a workforce that takes ownership and is excited to be part of the team. Knowing you trust their processes allows them to do their best work.

Employee empowerment leaders include:

  • Netflix. Netflix is well-known for its great employee benefits, but it goes beyond the norm. The entertainment behemoth also offers unlimited vacation days, no dress code, and no expense approval requirements. It embraces a company culture where the workers make the rules, and it’s been a very successful business model.  
  • Bank of America. From the Bank of America careers page: “We’ve built a strong culture of inclusion by fostering an environment of trust and engagement, where all employees are empowered to bring their whole selves to work.” Leaders encourage mutual trust and accountability among team members, giving them the autonomy to do better work.

4. Embrace remote work and flexible schedules

Both remote work and flexible schedules can improve flexibility in your business. In fact, remote work is a leader in flexible work arrangements, as more people prefer working from home over commuting to the office for a full-time job.

Letting workers set their own schedules or work from home is mutually beneficial: It means workers can have a better work-life balance and greater flexibility when it comes to their schedules, and it means you can cut back on workspaces and cut absenteeism and turnover costs.

In fact, a PGI study found that 95% of employers said remote work (even part time) had a great impact on worker retention.

Some flexible work leaders are:

  • LinkedIn. Aside from offering wellness programs, paid parental leave, and education reimbursement, LinkedIn is a leader in hybrid work options. Called the “Great Reshuffle,” the company’s policy allows workers to choose hybrid or remote work roles and includes no-meeting days, a “RestUp” week off, and Discretionary Time Off (DTO).
  • Google. The pandemic shook up the tech industry, and Google used it to rethink work-life balance and company culture. It settled on a hybrid model for most positions, with workers expected to come into the office only three days a week and work from home the other two. The brand also supports part-time roles and job sharing and offers four “work from anywhere” weeks per year.

5. Implement agile management techniques

Lastly, agile management techniques can improve flexibility in your business. Agile project management means breaking project processes into smaller bits so workers can work quickly and resolve issues at each step (rather than waiting until the end of a project).

Agile management allows workers to share responsibilities, collaborate, and provide beneficial feedback. It doesn’t require a project manager, as the team delegates responsibilities and works together without oversight.

Agile management leaders include:

  • Fitbit. Fitbit uses the Scaled Agile Framework to break its workforce into teams that work together to deliver products quickly. It also implemented a two-month overview of each team’s work. This allows the company to respond to consumer needs more quickly.
  • Panera Bread. Agile management is shaking up the food and beverage industry, with Panera Bread leading in innovation. The company’s agile delivery has allowed for better and easier online ordering options, fewer meetings, and better team communication.

3 examples of flexibility in the workplace

If you’re ready to incorporate some flex into your company culture, consider the previously mentioned strategies when moving forward. After all, what’s good for your employees is good for your business.

Below, we’ve outlined some examples you can implement to make your business structure more flexible for workers.  

1. The four-day workweek

This option is a shortened version of a regular workweek, but hours might be longer on the four days so workers can take the fifth day off (sometimes, hours don’t change during the four workdays). This schedule is great for employee retention, mental wellness, and environmental impact (less commuting means a smaller carbon footprint).

2. Unlimited time off

Providing unlimited time off allows your workers to choose when to be in the office and when to take a break. This can be paid or unpaid, but it allows part-time and full-time employees to tend to needs outside the workplace and prioritize their personal lives as needed.

Microsoft is one example of a company embracing unlimited paid time off for its full-time employees to give them the flexibility they desire.

3. Independent professionals

Sometimes, a full-time employee doesn’t fit the bill when it comes to a flexible business model. In fact, many projects and teams can benefit from independent professionals bringing new ideas to the table. Hiring remote workers to lend a hand as needed can help you meet goals and deadlines and save money on salary costs.

Embrace flexibility in your business with Upwork

Workplace flexibility is one of the most important factors for business success. In a post-pandemic world, it’s often the only way to move forward and stay relevant to customers.

It’s also the best way to guarantee employee satisfaction. When people know you have their personal lives and company culture in mind, they’re more likely to work hard for you and help make your business the best it can be.

Consider hiring flexible talent to fill open positions or needs in your organization. Upwork can help you find workers for all your business-related needs, whether in HR, supply chain management, or another position.

Let our pool of independent professionals looking for remote work or flexible work put you on the path toward business flexibility.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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The Importance of Flexibility in Business
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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