How Companies Can Adapt to a Flexible Work Environment

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What are the benefits of a flexible work environment? How should managers and employees adapt to a culture of workplace flexibility?

The opposite of a traditional workplace, a flexible organization embraces practices such as employee autonomy, generous time off, and frequent adaptations. Since industries and markets are always changing, managers and employees should embrace flexibility to keep their companies relevant. 

Keep reading to learn why a flexible work environment is necessary for some companies, and how you can manage one.

What Is Workplace Flexibility?

A flexible organization is one that gives employees control over when and where they work, depending on their responsibilities and circumstances. Additionally, flexible organizations can adapt to constantly changing conditions, says Aaron Dignan in Brave New Work. This means that you can quickly get rid of processes that don’t serve the organization and experiment with new ways of doing things to meet new challenges. 

Flexible organizations allow people to problem-solve, rather than trying to predict and control every process from the top down. For example, if a weekly group meeting has become ineffective as a company has grown, the employees should have a simple way to get rid of the meeting and create new meetings as needed. This concept also applies to things like changing pay structures, budgets, and working roles.

How to Promote Workplace Flexibility as a Business Manager

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, companies have had to deal with uncertainty and unexpected changes. Unfortunately, some companies failed to adapt to the changing times because they weren’t adequately prepared. Even if you’re not preparing for a disaster in the business world, our strategies will help you guide your employees through a flexible work environment that can benefit everyone.

1. Enforce Employee Autonomy

To develop an intrinsically motivating, flexible work environment, you need to allow people to rekindle their autonomy. People who are given more freedom may be even more accountable for their work, not less. You must give them the freedom to work at their own pace in their own time and trust that they’ll get the best work done.

For best results, people need to have autonomy over four major dimensions of their work, says Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: the task, the time, the technique, and the team.

Autonomy Over Tasks

In traditional work environments, the entirety of what you work on is decided. Instead, people should enjoy some autonomy in choosing what they work on.

One common way to implement this is by giving 20% time to employees to work on any project they want. The only requirement is that the project should further the goals of the organization somehow.

Another way to give autonomy over tasks is by holding a FedEx day, where workers are given the freedom to work with a team on a project of their choice. The only restriction is that they must ship the project within a day (hence FedEx). These are also known as “hack days.”

Autonomy Over Time

Many work environments require face time at the office during specific hours. Checking in late or leaving early are signs of negligence. Some workers are now expected to be available by text, email, or Slack around the clock. This leash crowds out personal time, reduces satisfaction, and increases turnover.

The antidote is a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), where the focus is on the work itself rather than when they do it. Workers still need to meet goals and deadlines, but as long as they achieve their goals, they can work whenever and wherever they want.

Some work structures, like the legal billable hour, are so centered around the time that ROWE seems hard to implement. But some companies are moving toward flat-rate billing for projects, rather than a time-based fee.

Autonomy Over Technique

Even when workers don’t have full autonomy over what they do, they can still enjoy autonomy over how they do it. Work doesn’t need to be micromanaged—given goals to hit, people can figure out the best way to achieve them.


  • Zappos gives support staff freedom on how to serve the customer, doesn’t require scripts, and doesn’t monitor calls. This has famously led to some support calls lasting hours, with a delighted customer on the other end.
  • JetBlue hires remote support staff and allows them to answer customer calls from home. This allows drawing from a deeper pool of talent, like parents, retirees, and people with disabilities.

Autonomy Over Team

In most companies, you don’t get a choice of whom you work with. But this can lead to especially frustrating scenarios when you can’t stand certain teammates.

Some companies are experimenting with allowing people to choose their team:

  • At Whole Foods, candidates work 30-day trials with a team, and the current employees decide whether to hire the person.
  • At Facebook, new engineers spend 6 weeks in a coding boot camp. Then they interview different teams and decide which to join.
  • For 20% time and FedEx days, people can choose their own temporary groups to work with.

2. Let Employees Decide on Vacations and Expenses

With a highly motivated staff and a culture of candor and accountability, Reed Hastings (No Rules Rules) was able to give Netflix employees more autonomy to make big decisions that enforced a flexible work environment. It also enabled Hastings to implement another unconventional measure at Netflix: He abolished the vacation policy and the travel and expense approval process. These two decisions worked wonders for Netflix; they can do the same for your company.

Eliminate the Vacation Policy

Netflix neither allows vacation time nor tracks days off, giving employees more control to create a work-life balance. This makes it easier to attract top talent and sends a message to employees that management trusts them. To prevent employees from taking too much vacation, Hastings instructed managers to provide enough relevant information for employees to make good decisions—for example, this may include telling employees that they can’t take time off within two weeks of a deadline, or that no more than one team member can be out at a time. 

On the other hand, to ensure that employees still took enough vacations, he encouraged leadership at all levels to take big vacations, talk openly about them, and encourage employees to do the same.

Eliminate Travel and Expense Policies

Hastings also eliminated travel and expense approvals and instead made it Netflix’s policy for employees to “act in the company’s best interest.” For instance, it’s in the company’s best interest for an employee to stick to a modest budget for lodging, unless she’s in an unusually expensive area and must pay up to afford a hotel that allows her a decent night of sleep before a presentation. This policy empowers employees to use their judgment, but it also requires managers to provide information about what’s appropriate and inappropriate so that employees can make wise decisions. 

To let employees know that their bosses could be monitoring their actions and thus discourage overspending and abuse, Netflix managers regularly check a sampling of expenses. Hastings also says it’s important to reinforce the threat of getting caught by telling employees when someone is fired for overspending.

3. Stay in Communication With Employees

Although you’ve given employees autonomy to work at their own pace, you must also stay in communication with them to ensure that everyone is comfortable with workplace flexibility. Managers who aren’t communicating with their employees run the risk of ignoring underlying problems in productivity that could negatively affect the company’s strategy. 

Poor communication is at the root of many problems. Communication issues can take many forms, according to The Oz Principle by Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman. If flexible work environments aren’t set up correctly, people aren’t accessible to each other. Sometimes they don’t ask the right questions, or they don’t really listen to what other people have to say. Key information doesn’t get properly disseminated to everyone. 

Problem: A communication failure can balloon into other issues when people within the company aren’t on the same page about their shared goals. This leads to a lack of focus and unity. And even if that lack of unity doesn’t cause immediate or obvious problems, it makes the team less effective and slows the company’s growth.

Solution: Results are key to accountability—and people can’t be accountable if everyone’s looking for different results, or doesn’t know what the ideal results are at all. Confused or directionless employees aren’t effective. It’s on leaders to make sure everyone is on the same page and communicating clearly with each other. And it’s on employees to speak up when they’re confused and to take accountability for their own role in the organization. 

4. Normalize a Constantly Adapting Culture

Flexibility doesn’t just apply to the employees’ day-to-day routines. It also means the company has to constantly evolve with the ever-changing market. 

Winning by Jack Welch claims that successful companies must know how to adapt to changing market conditions. Yet enacting change within a company can sometimes feel like an uphill battle—employees are often resistant to change, and it can be costly and time-consuming. Welch gives three pieces of advice on how to adapt successfully.

Adapt purposefully: Because change is a necessary part of business, a common mistake companies make is to enact change without a clear direction in mind, jumping on the latest trend or trying to adapt in several ways at once. This can lead to a disorganized work environment in which time and money are wasted and employees don’t buy into the new way of doing things.

But if you instead adapt thoughtfully, with a clear goal, things will go much more smoothly. To do this, Welch recommends backing your changes with as much data as possible. This will ensure that the changes are actually good for the business and will be implemented correctly. 

Dismiss the obstructors: Though a purposeful and data-backed change will help sway the skeptics, there will always be employees who remain resistant. Welch says you have to get rid of the people who aren’t on board with the change. Not only will they provide little value, but they’ll also lower the morale and motivation of everyone else.

Search for opportunities everywhere: Sometimes, it’s obvious what changes your company needs to make—for example, buying out a struggling competitor for pennies on the dollar or transitioning to e-commerce with the rise of the internet. But Welch claims that to be a truly successful and adaptive company, you need to be constantly on the lookout for less obvious changes. This might mean staying up to date on the latest technologies or emerging industries. By staying ahead of the curve on potential changes your company can make, you ensure that you’re one step ahead of the competition and, when a new market trend develops, you’re not the last one to realize it. 

How Employees Can Adapt to a Flexible Work Environment 

Whether you’re working from home or in an office space, it can be challenging to cope with a flexible work environment if you’re used to a strict routine. Being in charge of your own work and schedule might make you feel isolated. 

The best way to manage a flexible work environment is to set boundaries between your work and your life so that you don’t feel unfocused at work, or like you’re on the clock when you’ve finished your workday.

Here are some tips for working in an environment that’s constantly changing, and where employees have full control over their workday:

  • Define a bounded workspace. Choose a place in your home or the office where you’ll do your work, ideally somewhere you can avoid while you’re not working.
  • Socialize with your coworkers. Talk to people about non-work related subjects on Slack (or whatever system your workplace uses). It’ll help with feelings of loneliness and remind your coworkers you exist.
  • Get rid of distractions. Don’t watch YouTube videos in the background or try to take short breaks to read or play video games.
  • Prepare lunch in advance. Make extra food at dinner so you can eat it for lunch the next day so you don’t waste work time.
  • Disengage at the end of the day. When you finish your workday, shut down your computer. If possible, find a class or extracurricular activity that takes place at the same time every day and stop working at that time to create a clear boundary.

Final Words

Flexibility certainly isn’t for every company, but it’s helpful for businesses that prioritize employee engagement and want to show full trust in their workers. It might be a slow process getting everyone on board with this new incentive, but over time, everyone will reap the benefits of a flexible work environment.

What’s been your experience working in a flexible work environment? Let us know in the comments below!

How Companies Can Adapt to a Flexible Work Environment

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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