Attention Frontline Leaders: Flexible Work Isn’t Just For Office Workers Anymore – Thrive Global

In case you missed my last article for Thrive Global, Five Lessons on Flexibility from the Pandemiclet me remind you of the key takeaway:

Flexible work works! 

Thirty-two peer-reviewed journal articles came to the same conclusion: when done well, flexibility in when, where, and/or how employees work can lead to gains in productivity, employee engagement, well-being, retention, and big cost savings for businesses.

But what about frontline workers?

Since the early aughts of the pandemic, the news cycle has been filled with articles touting the benefits of flexible and/or remote work, but those pieces were dedicated to knowledge workers alone, and focused primarily on geographic flexibility.

Gartner estimates that there are “100 million knowledge workers in the US, and over 1 billion worldwide.” So what about flexibility for the 2.7 billion frontline workers globally who cannot work from home, and for whom the concept of hybrid work is more salt in the wound than a possibility?

In a recent study on flexibility, a critical resource linked to both improved well-being and productivity was job autonomy, defined as “the extent of independence and discretion permitted when performing professional tasks.” Note that definition does not ever mention when or where work is permitted. 

Truly autonomous work is possible for everyone, regardless of work setting.

There are many ways that we can provide flexibility and autonomy for frontline workers, and I have listed my top 5 below: 

1. Scheduling Happens Locally

Offering flexibility for frontline workers is not rocket science. And something as simple as giving employees a choice on scheduling can go a long way.

To simplify this process further, you can use “entry interviews” for new hires or “re-entry interviews,” as I like to call them, for current employees to better understand individual life priorities before building the schedule. Sure, not everyone can come in after 9 and leave before 4, but in the process of conducting these interviews, employees feel heard, and employers learn about their people. Win-win.

There are also many new applications that put the power of scheduling in the hands of employees. 

Policies that allow individuals with the same job responsibilities to switch shifts without managerial approval is also a great way to offer autonomy with relation to schedules.

Check out Hilton’s program Hilton Flex for some great tips on localizing decision making for frontline populations.

2. Super Short-Term Leave 

By giving employees some paid short-term leave hours that they can use at their discretion (when not damaging to the work environment) we can see increases in retention, loyalty, and engagement. I mean, who would not breathe better knowing that they did not have to use precious vacation time for a one-hour vet appointment!

Arnold Clark, a car retailer out of the UK, offers employees flexible hours that can be requested in addition to PTO to accommodate short-term needs! 

3. Give Flexibility in Project Choices to Allow for Growth

Not all autonomy is about scheduling and work location. In work settings where temporal and geographic flexibility are not a possibility, allowing employees to rotate or choose projects to work on can be a game changer!

Allowing employees to rotate projects not only makes work meaningful, but also helps drive engagement and retention. 

I mean, which employer would you rather work for: the one who proactively offers opportunity for growth, or the one that expects you to do the same thing regardless of your interest?

4. 9/80 Workweek:

In this scenario, work is scheduled in two-week blocks, where employees work one additional hour per day and earn an extra day off every two weeks. The four-day work week is not just for salaried employees anymore! Chevron is one of the many employers currently offering optional 9/80 workweeks.

There are many different types of flexible scheduling, so if this type of schedule is not permissible due to local labor laws, consider the vast array of flex-time alternatives.

5. Have Regular Listening Sessions to Understand Employee Needs

Keep Calm and Have Listening Sessions. 

I feel like this needs to be a t-shirt.

There is something powerful about allowing people to have a voice in their work situations.

Simply by giving employees the ability to speak openly and have a say in how they are treated, businesses can improve engagement and retention.

So, as a business with frontline employees, if you have not figured out how to offer flexibility, start by having listening sessions with your people.

The Bottom Line: Motivation and loyalty increase with autonomy.

If organizations want to increase productivity, it is critical that employees feel trusted. Giving individuals evena small degree of flexibility in when, where, and/or how they work drives loyalty, motivation, and productivity.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again! The debate on issues like hybrid work, productivity, flexibility and employee well-being is going to continue. And that’s a good thing. But the more we can build our future of work based on the data, the bigger win-win it will be for both employees and employers. 

Throughout this series, I will focus on various aspects of my research including Top Tips for Employees to Increase Productivity in FWAs and Top Tips for Leaders to Ensure and Measure Productivity in FWAs. Please comment or ask questions below. While I cannot guarantee I know the answer off the bat, I look forward to the conversation.

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Takeda. Takeda does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of the information provided herein.