Workplace arrangements: shifting the paradigm

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Diversifying resources is a well-established business continuity solution, as defined in the Business Continuity Institute Good Practice Guidelines. This includes having alternative workplaces to ensure the health and safety of human resources and the preservation of critical processes in case of an incident.

Prior to the pandemic, several companies already adopted flexible working arrangements. For instance, the BCI Continuity and Resilience report in 2018 revealed that two-thirds of organizations employ a global, decentralized workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the value of having flexible working arrangements such as remote working. A study from the USA found that almost 70% of full-time workers have been working from home during the pandemic. Furthermore, the number of remote employees is expected to increase in 2021 as more and more employers learn to trust this process. A report from Gartner shows that almost three-fourths of their respondents plan to adopt remote work arrangements permanently once the pandemic is over. Among these companies are the tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft.

Apart from increased productivity, workplace flexibility practices present positive outcomes for both employees and employers. People can enjoy a better work-life balance, increase their job satisfaction and commitment, and reduce stress. On the other hand, employers can benefit from higher retention rates, increased loyalty and morale, as well as higher work productivity, while avoiding the costs connected to high turnover rates and reducing overhead expenses such as office rent, amenities and equipment.

It is worth noting that flexible work arrangements include more than just remote work, as shown below:

  1. Flexitime. This option gives employees the freedom to structure their workdays and weeks in terms of time, place and duration.
  2. Compressed workweek. Employees get a shorter working week but longer hours in a typical workday.
  3. Job sharing. Two part-time employees would share the job of a full-time staff.
  4. Remote work. Probably the most familiar of all, it involves a set up where employees work from home or another location away from the office.
  5. Permanent part-time arrangements. An employee has a part-time role that does not need a full-length workweek.

Furthermore, flexibility can also be built into workplaces. For instance, “flexispace”, builds dynamic environments that gear away from the traditional office setups. Flexispace features high versatility based on employees’ needs.  A particular room could be a presentation area one day, then a project staging the day after, or a group workspace the following week. Common elements may include open plan concepts, breakout spaces, quiet zones, touch points, and shared resources.

The following are the most common types of flexible space solutions:

  1. Coworking. This solution offers a communal working area where employees from different organizations can gather to work. The area features WI-FI, printers, conference rooms, and desks.
  2. Hot Desks. A setup where all desk space is shared on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  3. Dedicated desks. Private desks can be leased by a member from a space provider. During the lease, professionals can leave their belongings at their dedicated desk.
  4. Private Flexible Offices. These are private office suites available for companies that wish to have the option to create a dedicated space within shared flexible workspace.
  5. On-Demand Meeting and Conferences. Flexible space providers usually allow their members to book these spaces for a set amount of time.

As workstyle and workspace arrangements are moving away from the traditional approach, organizational structure now tends to go to the same direction as well. An increasing number of organizations are decentralizing authority and responsibility for decision making processes. Companies adopting this approach have fewer organizational tiers and a better flow of ideas through the company. In this model, management allow units, departments, franchises, or specific teams to make decisions. As benefits, decision-making becomes more agile as employees are more empowered. In addition, it can boost morale and help develop leadership skills workforce. Moreover, mistakes can be easily mitigated as opposed to the traditional centralized structure as it can be easier to pinpoint problems in the smaller units . However, one disadvantage of this multi-directional decision-making process is the confusion it may arise in reaching a final decision. Therefore, transparent strategies, strong mission and clear vision are essential to make decentralization most effective.

These new practices have drawbacks at some points as not all organizations are the same. Certain arrangements may sound attractive but may not work for a certain type of industry. The best approach is always finding “the goodness of fit” by listening to what the main stakeholder – the workforce, would say. After all, their welfare is the backbone of a healthy business.

Knowledge exchange and collaboration are the key elements of these workplace innovations, which are important pillars of organizational resilience. There are indeed several discussions on how working in silos hinders business continuity and resilience. Thus, the move towards more flexible and decentralized workplaces may be the solution to break these silos down. We can achieve this by taking in consideration the following:

  1. Not leaving the people behind. It has been said that business consists of 3 important P’s – Product, Process, and People. Regrettably, most of the time it is the people that get the least of the attention. This pandemic has reminded us of this criticality. True leading organizations recognize the importance of putting people’s safety first during a disruption. They are the ones that prioritized their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, through relief funds, home office allowance, bonuses, and wellness programs among others.
  2. Sustained engagement and positive communication are always beneficial. Apart from boosting productivity and increasing talent retention, these two aspects help build a culture that reflects the company’s values, vision, and goals. With a good communication flow, strong bonds are formed among people, increasing employee morale, and building effective teamwork.
  3. A holistic approach to business continuity management. It is auspicable that people are involved in formulating business continuity plans to make sure they are engaged. Establishing a constructive dialogue with staff goes a long way in understanding the blind spots of your organization, making it easier to identify concentrations of risk or single points of failure.
  4. Facilitating a resilient and inclusive culture with an accomodating physical environment. From a behaviorist point-of-view, environment affects human behavior and vice versa. Office designs must be created based on the employees’ needs, behaviors, and functions that can be aligned with the organization’s core values. In fact, some designers employ psychologists to collect ideas through surveys, observations, and focus group discussions. The point is companies can provide physical infrastructures that would be both beneficial to the people and the business.
  5. Flexible workplace arrangements as business continuity solution. With the technology and its popularity, flexible workplace arrangements may offer cost-efficient and effective business continuity solutions.