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Is flexible work the future of the post-pandemic workplace?

The pandemic has given business leaders increased visibility into the personal lives of their employees and highlighted that supporting employees in their personal lives more effectively enables employees to not only have better lives, but also to perform at a higher level.

Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey has found that employers who support employees with their work life balance see a 23 percent increase in the number of employees reporting better mental health and a 21 percent increase in the number of high performers compared to organisations that don’t provide the same degree of support to their employees. The survey also revealed that only 36 percent of employees were high performers at organisations with a standard 40-hour work week, compared to organisations that offer employees flexibility over when, where and how much they work, who see 55 percent of their workforce as high performers.

The shifting balance

The recent LinkedIn 2021 workplace trends forecast featured a Harvard Business School professor’s prediction that the old 9-to-5 workday will shift to a “3-2-2” workweek with two at-home workdays in addition to a two-day weekend. Many employees miss being present at physical office spaces, and consequently many companies will be embracing flexible spaces and schedules this year and beyond.

This flexible structure gives employees guidelines to follow but also empowers them to choose the schedule that works best for their lives, enabling the creativity-boosting human connection of in-office encounters while giving them freedom to keep up with their personal lives. Organisations who tried the combined approach to in-person and remote work before the pandemic reported happier employees, higher productivity, and reduced absenteeism, which suggests that switching from the old 9-to-5 to the new 3-2-2 could be more than a way of placating employees' post-pandemic demands for flexibility.

We are already seeing organisations implementing a flexible approach to work. For example, Microsoft's "hybrid workplace" environment will allow most roles to remain remote less than half of the time with manager approval, while 62 percent of Google employees plan to return to their offices, but not every day, and Sodexo has split their workforce into "Team A" and "Team B", where they switch off between office and remote work, therefore making the office safer and being flexible – just to name a few.

Catching up with the speed of transformation

According to a recent McKinsey study, businesses have surprised themselves with the speed and success of their digital initiatives in response to Covid-19. On average, Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation by seven years in a matter of months. However, transformation initiatives create larger skills gaps and require more training for employees to support the digital transformation needs and the speed of change.

Gartner reports that only 16 percent of new hires possess the skills needed for their current jobs and the jobs of the future, whilst according to Deloitte over half of leaders say that between half and all of their workforce will need to change their skills and capabilities in the next three years. In addition, organisational focus needs to be on soft skills, because while the shelf life of technical skills is relatively short, soft skills are always necessary, regardless of an employee’s functional role or how the technology landscape evolves.

According to LinkedIn’s research 83 percent of learning and development executives highlighted that senior leadership team buy in might not be a challenge, however championing learning across the organisation is a different situation. Only 27 percent reported that their CEOs are active champions of learning, even though CEOs spend 20 percent more time learning soft skills than their employees. Both, people managers and employees are inspired to learn for the same reason—career growth, and encouraging managers to recommend specific learning opportunities can be an effective motivational driver.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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