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Does your Company have flexible work arrangement policies?

today2022.02.06. 141

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By Lisbeth Claus, Professor Emerita of Management & Global HR at Willamette University

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Now is the time for HR to rethink what their spectrum of work arrangements will be and develop a more ‘dynamic open talent’ work arrangement strategy

Prior to COVID-19, companies that adopted a ‘dynamic open talent’ strategy to gain a competitive advantage in the talent management arena were considered progressive vanguards.  Two years into the global pandemic, the oft written ‘new normal’ for companies everywhere rely upon the five core components of the dynamic open talent ecosystem:   

  • Portfolio of talent—hiring talent on the talent continuum
  • Flexibility—letting people work from anywhere/anytime
  • Work agility—focus on assignments and roles rather than job descriptions
  • Talent fluidity—letting employees cross both internal and external boundaries
  • Technology/data-enabled—utilizing data, information and communication tools, and integrated platforms for people management.

The ‘Covid effect’—or the ramifications of the pandemic on different aspects of our lives—was the crisis impetus and structural break for many employers that lead to dramatic changes in the workplace. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of several elements of a dynamic open talent approach—most notably in providing flexibility through rapid implementation of remote work and the expansion of technology to support and manage distributed work.

Whether remote work is here to stay still remains to be seen. Just when many companies anticipated the reopening of offices and bringing the workforce back to the office, resurgences in infection rates kept the remote work experiment going.

The results of this lingering reliance on remote work are clear: not only does productivity not suffer the decline once widely anticipated, but workers discovered that they wanted more flexibility and changed their expectations of the workplace.

While not all employees want to work entirely remotely, the proverbial ‘9 to 5’ grind and long commutes to the workplace now seem archaic to workers who have successfully navigated working remotely. These same workers are now demanding greater work flexibility and work-life integration from their employers.

Flexibility refers to both the location (work anywhere) and timing (work anytime) of working. In terms of location, work is either location-dependent or independent. Location-dependent work requires the work to be done at the company’s workplace (office, factory, store) or a designated place (construction site, repair site, etc.). Location dependency is usually warranted because the job responsibilities—or parts of the job—cannot be done elsewhere. As the term implies, location-independent work is not bound by a specific location but can be done anywhere—usually within the constraints of access to digital technology. Location-independent work goes by different names, defying a single type or definition: telework, telecommuting, remote work, hybrid work, flexible work, work-from-anywhere (WFA), work-from-home (WFH), workations, and digital nomads. Each of these concepts has its own location-independent work arrangement variation. The second component of flexibility is time and refers to the bandwidth the worker has to do the work. Time flexibility depends on a number of factors such as different shifts, time zones, and whether the work is synchronous or a-synchronous. In a 2021 report, The future of the world after COVID-19, McKinsey estimated that the overall-physical-proximity scores (based on the interaction with co-workers, customers, and equipment) for different work arenas ranged from 54 to 86% (out of a 100) meaning that the majority of jobs were deemed bound to a physical location. Despite this, 14% to 46% of these physical-proximity job roles are still somewhat location independent and could be done remotely. Many companies are considering jobs to be entirely location-dependent when, in reality, some of the work tasks could be done remotely even if the majority of tasks are location-dependent.

Although there is a solid business case for companies to adopt a wide variety of location-independent and a-synchronous work arrangements for their employees, many companies still have to figure out how flexible they can (and want to be) when the pandemic turns into an endemic disease. Now is the time for HR to rethink what their spectrum of work arrangements will be and develop a more ‘dynamic open talent’ work arrangement strategy. 

The first step for companies is to determine which job roles can be done remotely versus on-premises. HR must then develop a set of agile remote work policies and procedures so their companies can take advantage of the benefits of different work arrangements while reducing the possible liabilities they may engender. If they fail to do so, remote workers may operate under the radar as stealth workers and expose the company to greater risk. Such remote work policies ideally cover a number of issues such as compliance with the legal framework (especially employment agreements, contracts, and discrimination risk); where and when work can be done; talent management (recruitment, onboarding, home-work environment, performance outcomes, etc.); compensation and benefits (including payroll and taxes); technology support; duty of care; privacy, cybersecurity, and visas and work permits if workers use workations abroad or become digital nomads.

The ‘great return’ to the office may just have been supplanted by the ‘great resignation,’ and forward-thinking employers are more and more exploring flexible work arrangements in order to attract and retain talent. If companies fail to consider the whole spectrum of work arrangements, they are likely to miss out on acquiring the talent they need to sustain their business continuity and growth. Employers who offer flexible work arrangements for their employees will be best positioned to attract and retain a wider talent pool. Yet companies need to support these flexible work arrangements and talent strategies with appropriate operational considerations in order to respond, in an agile manner, to the expectations of the talent and the continuously evolving risks in an uncertain external context.

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Lisbeth is Professor Emerita of Management & Global HR at Willamette University (MBA) in Salem, Oregon (USA) and Visiting Professor at Pforzheim University (Germany). She is the author of two recent books: #ZigZagHR – Why the Best HR is No Longer HR (with Lesley Arens) and Be(Come) an Awesome Manager: The Essential Toolkit for Impact Leadership (with Scott Baker and Peter Vermeulen). Both books are available from Amazon. Contact info:  lclaus.@willamette.edu or via LinkedIn.

Written by: Lisbeth Claus

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