Unlock Public Service Superpowers: Why Flexibility Is the Key to a Thriving Government

You might hear the words “flexible work schedules” and imagine an empty office while employees lounge by the pool with hundreds of unanswered emails. 

Why Public Sector Agencies Should Embrace Flexible Work

While flexible work can offer perks like working from different locations, this level of unbotheredness is not the case for the estimated 1 in 4 employees, or 27%, of the United States’ workforce who currently work remotely. 

In fact, 94% of these workers agree that their productivity levels are the same, if not better, than when they were working in person. This is just one advantage for employers with partial or completely flexible work options. 

HR decision-makers and leaders must accommodate trends in employee preferences, including flexible work arrangements. Learn why agencies need flexible work options, the benefits of hybrid work, and strategies for flexible work schedules in government.

What Is Flexible Work?

Companies and current or future employees each have their own definitions of flexible work. The key word is flexible. This type of work has a schedule that falls outside a traditional on-location, nine-to-five routine.

In the most common examples, employees have flexibility in where they work, how often they are in the office, and their daily hours. Employers may have the same requirements for all employees. However, some workers may receive more or less flexibility depending on their lifestyles, needs, and responsibilities.

Why Should Agencies Embrace Flexible Work?

The pandemic set the stage for remote work, and employees are questioning whether in-office appearances are mandatory. According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index, 73% of workers aren’t convinced about showing up at the office simply because it’s a company expectation. 

Therefore, flexible work in the public sector can reduce employees’ feelings of obligation. This can positively increase recruiting and retaining more highly skilled workers who want flexibility in their hours, days, and locations.

A company with strict policies that require workers’ physical attendance risks higher resignation rates. Eagle Hill Consulting, a Virginia-based firm, found that 68% of fully remote or hybrid employees would look for another job if their company required more in-person work. A resignation this large would negatively impact an organization’s productivity and decrease employee satisfaction. 

The Benefits of Flexible Work

Flexible work has a domino effect of significant benefits for employees, management, and the company. 

Greater Work-Life Balance

Allowing a flexible or hybrid model lets employees make time for the activities they love outside of work. A reported 43% of jobholders said their biggest concern about more in-person work time was losing work/ life balance.

Two people can work at the same company but have completely different responsibilities. Their ages, roles, hobbies, and lifestyles may mean one can spend more time in the office while the other needs a flexible work schedule to meet their needs. This, in turn, leads to increased happiness and job satisfaction.

Maximizing Productivity

Limiting or removing the option for flexible work harms employee performance. About 44% of government employees said that returning to the office full-time would decrease their productivity. 

Instead of increasing focus and problem-solving skills, a lack of flexible work has the opposite effect on workers. This negatively impacts the 6 out of 10 workers who said that they enter a state of deep thinking more easily when working remotely.

Increased Inclusivity

Flexible work options create a more inclusive environment for caregivers and people with disabilities. Folks who care for their parents, young children, or other family members might require more time at home. Letting them choose if and when they return to the office will let them tackle their responsibilities without the stress of being away for extended periods.

This also applies to people with disabilities. Their homes and offices have already been modified to ensure their comfort and the best work environment. A company’s office may only have a few, if any, of these adjustments, leading to a less-than-ideal experience for this group of employees.

Goodbye, Commute

For 43% of employees, flexible work means saying goodbye to dreaded commutes. Jobholders are spending an average of 54 minutes per day and 270 minutes—or 4.5 hours—a week in traffic. That’s 18 hours a month spent on going to and from work.

When employers offer a work-from-home schedule, workers take back an hour of their day. That extra time can go toward anything from sleeping, exercising, or starting the day any way they want. What matters here is the freedom and joy that they can bring to their work, team, and organization.

Savings for Employers

Organizations also see monetary benefits from having flexible work options. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that hybrid work saves employers $11,315 per employee each year. These are costs cut from physical changes such as downsizing to smaller office space and needing fewer supplies for the in-person workers. 

This study also found that employers save with workplace flexibility because of a decrease in absenteeism, a decline in voluntary resignation, and an increase in employee productivity. Jobholders are using their time more efficiently and staying longer with companies that offer work-from-home schedules.

The Challenges of Flexible Work

Giving employees more freedom in when and where they work are just a few of the flexible work benefits mentioned above, but there are a few challenges as well.

Flexible work means that all collaboration takes place on the screen. Board meetings, exchanges at the water cooler, and run-ins in the hallway are replaced with emails and video calls. Because of this, remote workers may spend their workdays with few social interactions.

This form of fully electronic communication can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection. Zippia reports that 70% of remote workers feel excluded from the workplace culture. The study also finds that 50% of work-from-home employees experience loneliness at least once per week. For some, working outside of the office hinders a sense of belonging.

In-person collaboration and socialization are two features that flexible work cannot replace, but there are ways to embrace the limitations.

Tracking Tasks and Progress

As HR decision-makers and leaders, you want to know your employees meet deadlines and submit stellar work. Since employees are not physically in the office, it’s not as simple to see or ask for their progress in person. Although project management tools can mediate this, some employers want more consistent updates on a task’s completion.

Beware of being too demanding or persistent with check-ins. Respect the flexible employees’ autonomy and avoid micromanagement, which is the number two cause of frustration among workers. This can create feelings of distrust between supervisors and employees. It can also decrease job satisfaction and disincentivize workers. 

Strategies for Embracing Flexible Work

Flexible work has several definitions, and preferences can vary from person to person. Here are a few ways organizations can offer flexible work in the public sector.

100% Remote Work

This type of flexible work means everything from hiring to day-to-day job execution takes place away from the office. Employees never have a restriction to their physical location and can work from their home, favorite cafe, or any place with a reliable internet connection.

With remote work, certain employees may never step foot in the office or meet their coworkers in person. Instead, they rely on virtual communications and connections.

Hybrid Work

Hybrid work offers a mix of in-person and remote work. Employees following this schedule will work from home for a few days and then work in-office. The days are customizable based on the company’s needs and employee preferences. For example, the employee can work from home on Mondays and Fridays and go into the office the rest of the week.

This is one solution for employees who want a flexible schedule but still desire in-person collaboration and socialization.

Flextime Hours

If your employee has personal responsibilities that are not compatible with regular business hours, consider a flextime schedule. Instead of being confined to a nine-to-five workday, the worker chooses an eight-hour time block that works best for them. This can mean starting earlier than the rest of the team or beginning after everyone else.

Employees can take advantage of this every day or a few times a week. Caregivers, people with young children, and those with regular medical appointments will benefit most from this option. This works for in-person, hybrid, or remote employees.

Annualized Hours

Annualized hours are a step above the flextime schedule, giving even more flexible work options. Here, employees have a set number of hours they work each year. They must reach this goal but might not be required to work the same amount each day, week, or month. 

If they are busy with personal priorities, the employee may only work 30 hours one week and 50 the next to make up for their time. Even with the fluctuations, the agreed-upon hours are met annually.

Staggered Hours/Days

In this option, working hours or days are staggered for employees to offer flexibility and better coverage. For example, one shift of employees will begin at 9:00 a.m., the second shift will start at 11:00 a.m., and the final group enters at 1:00 p.m.

It can also mean that one group works from Monday through Friday while the other works Wednesday through Sunday. Depending on your employees’ availability, you can extend your business hours and days of operation.

Staggered hours can be combined with remote or hybrid work so that employees are partially or completely working from home.

How Can Companies Implement These Work Options?

Once HR decision-makers and leaders decide on a schedule that works best for them and their employees, they need to monitor performance. Below are flexible work strategies for keeping workers accountable and engaged.

Remote/Hybrid Work Guidelines

Have policies in place to keep flexible work employees accountable. Create a remote work guidebook with expectations, communication, deadlines, and best practices to fulfill their roles. It can include how often they meet with their teams and a timeframe for responding to messages.

If there are new hires, help them develop relationships with team members by hosting introductory video calls and having a system to send and receive messages efficiently.

Bridge the Gap With Technology

Invest in technology that makes a virtual workplace easy to navigate. Video and voice calling applications are crucial for building human connections.

Besides email, consider communication software that makes announcing updates, sharing files, and hosting presentations possible. Think of your company’s needs. Then, find a service that creates an all-in-one experience versus using several methods of communication.

Individual Meetings

Set time aside or make yourself available for one-on-one or small group discussions with remote, hybrid, or flexible employees. Because they do not see you in the office daily, they may not feel confident reaching out when things aren’t going well.

Scheduling a monthly or quarterly check-in meeting gives them the space to address any issues. Some may be quick fixes, and others might need more creative problem-solving, but at least you are aware of their needs. 

These meetings are also opportunities for you to give informal performance reviews and list the employees’ strengths and areas of improvement.

Space and Time Adjustments

Invest in making the office an appealing place for hybrid employees who work in person a few days a week. Free meals, wellness programs, and comfortable areas with both private and collaborative workspaces are a start. 

Estimates for the future of work flexibility also show people want to spend their time doing more of what they enjoy. Employees typically want a slightly longer lunch and appreciate when meetings are cut down by a few minutes.

The Bottom Line

Workplaces have evolved to accommodate schedules and locations outside of working from nine to five at an office. Adopting these flexible work arrangements in the public sector has been shown to increase productivity, decrease resignation rates, and boost employee morale.

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