Before the pandemic, very few companies had human-resources executives dedicated to employee flexibility.
Today, nearly 16 months after COVID-19 closed offices and forced tens of millions of Americans to work from home, that could change. As workplaces reopen and employees trickle back in, some organizations are rethinking when, where, and how people do their jobs.
LinkedIn offers a case in point: In April, the Microsoft-owned professional-networking platform appointed Shannon Hardy, a longtime HR executive there, as its first vice president of flex work. Hardy’s job involves crafting a flexibility plan for the company’s 16,000 employees in 33 offices around the world.
"We’re trying to answer the hard questions that many organizations are asking themselves: What does employee flexibility look like now? How does hybrid work in practice?" she told Insider.
Because LinkedIn is a core component of many companies’ recruiting strategies, Hardy acknowledges that she and her team have an outsized influence on shaping the future of worker flexibility. "We feel a responsibility to help," she said.
Hardy is still hammering out the specifics of LinkedIn’s long-term plans and policies, but already she has ideas for how employers can create more flexible, inclusive, and productive workplaces of the future.
Ask your employees what they need — and don’t be prescriptive
When it comes to workplace flexibility, "one size doesn’t fit all," Hardy said.
Organizations should offer employees a spectrum of remote and hybrid options, because "flexibility means different things to different people," she added.
For instance, she said, for working parents like herself, flexibility is the ability to set her own hours. She likes having the freedom to drop off her children at school in the morning, spend focused time in the office, leave work to be with her kids, and jump online in the evening.
For others, flexibility may mean the ability to work remotely for a week or two at a time while visiting with and caring for aging parents out of state.
Instead of issuing a blanket policy, organizations should ask employees what they need. Then they should customize individual work plans based on the employee’s preferences and the requirements of their role and team.
Seize the opportunity to diversify your workforce
In the past, organizations relied mainly on local talent to fill open positions. But the pandemic’s forced-work-from-home experiment has had an enlightening effect on employers: More and more companies are open to hiring remote employees.
"Organizations are no longer solely reliant on location-based hiring, which allows hiring managers to tap into new talent pools and marketplaces," Hardy said.
The shift represents a prime opportunity for organizations to diversify their ranks and reach different candidates, she said. These include people of color, members of underrepresented groups, disabled workers, parents, caregivers, and people who live outside of major cities.
Hiring managers should think more expansively about recruitment and consider how a candidate’s skills, perspectives, and experiences can enrich the organization. "The shift can open doors for organizations to increase their diversity," she said.
Cultivate a growth mindset
Even before COVID-19, research indicated that workplace flexibility is a powerful tool for retention. Not only can it improve worker engagement and happiness — leading to fewer missed days and lower attrition — it can also be a boon to employer loyalty.
But implementing a cohesive flexibility or hybrid-work strategy is easier said than done. A recent McKinsey survey found that while 90% of leaders had planned for a combination of remote and on-site work, most had no detailed plan for how it would work.
Hardy holds weekly meetings with outside organizations to discuss best practices. "The best thing we can do is share our experiences with each other: what’s working and where there are challenges," she said.
Humility and a willingness to experiment are key. "No one has solved this yet," Hardy said. "Organizations need to have a growth mindset."
Rebecca Knight July 8, 2021 at 09:00PM