Why Modern Offices Need More Flexibility

Posted on June 20, 2016

There’s no shortage of ways you can run your business. As the entrepreneur or CEO, it’s entirely in your power to create the rules, shape the environment, and enforce the policies that make your workplace and business unique. Businesses range from strict and conservative to loose and liberal, with everything in between, and there are examples of successful companies at every point in the spectrum.

However, there’s a prominent and growing trend in modern office culture, and it’s favoring companies with a more flexible type of culture. If you want to continue being successful, it’ll pay to loosen the reigns and allow for some more flexibility in your workplace.

Types of Flexibility

What do I mean by flexibility? Flexibility manifests itself in a number of ways.

  • Hours. The typical office environment forces a 9-to-5 culture, with occasionally permitted lunch breaks. This has been a staple for decades, but it doesn’t necessitate higher levels of productivity, or even communication. Flexibility here means allowing for different hours of work, or maybe different patterns of work, such as hyper-focused 6-hour workdays, or lackadaisical 12-hour ones (provided they meet your productivity standards). This allows your workers to work in the ways that suit them best.
  • Culture. “Culture” is a bit ambiguous, since all the items here could be considered an element of culture. What I’m really referring to is more flexibility when it comes to dress, conversation, and different types of interactions. Informality is becoming more important–it makes people feel at home, reducing stress and encouraging loyalty.
  • Presence. The physical presence of your employees is something that was once demanded, but may not be necessary anymore–as we’ll see in my justification below. Modern offices have more flexibility when it comes to working from home, or telecommuting across vast distances. Some workplaces are abandoning offices altogether. This broadens your hiring potential and increases employee satisfaction.
  • Communication. The days of requiring communication through in-person board room meetings or formal memos, even through email, are over. The most successful offices of the future will be ones with the most flexibility in terms of communication mediums and styles, allowing better, more immediate forms of communication.

Note that this doesn’t mean you need to compromise in terms of overall productivity, or goals you set as an organization. This isn’t about allowing for substandard work, or sacrificing your vision. It’s about giving people a broader range of options to perform quality work, and achieve your vision. Think of it this way; you’re building a house, and you’re allowing your builders more flexibility. That doesn’t mean changing the blueprints or allowing them to cut corners–it just means you’re giving them more tools to get the job done.

So what’s influencing these trends? If they’re so beneficial, why are they only emerging now?


One obvious reason is the emergence of technology. On the smartphone in our pockets, we have instant and mobile access to dozens of forms of communication, including old-fashioned phone calls, conference lines, video chats, text messages, emails, IMs, and social media interactions. Many staples of inflexible office culture, including strict 9-to-5 schedules and formal modes of communication were created to ensure that employees could be reached and could communicate efficiently. Now that we can communicate efficiently anywhere, at any time, those stringent creations no longer need to exist (or at least don’t need to be as strict). Remote working also becomes more possible, as workers can take their devices home with them easily, and access mutual files over the cloud.

The Gig Economy

In its strictest sense, the “gig economy” refers to the part-time workers and independent contractors of businesses like Uber and Lyft, which rely on these solo-preneurs to move their business models forward. On a broader scale, however, the gig economy is ushering in a different era of workplace values. It’s no longer common for workers to pick a career and stick with a company for 40 years until they retire. Instead, young professionals are hopping around from one job and one company to the next. Part of this is due to the rapid emergence and development of new companies, and part of it is also due to technology factors–such as more plentiful job opportunities. This makes employee retention and satisfaction all the more valuable.

When it comes down to it, your workplace is a community. By allowing more flexibility and acceptance in that community, you’ll do a better job of retaining your top talent.

Increasing Evidence

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s more emerging evidence that flexibility in the workplace leads to higher levels of worker productivity. Take, for example, the recent China-based study confirming that remote work can increase worker output. Or take the European model of the six-hour workday, which was recently shown toincrease overall productivity and employee satisfaction at once. Most of these studies seem to confirm, or at least suggest, that more workplace flexibility is a good thing.

You don’t have to take everything I’ve suggested in this article as absolute truth, nor are you required to make any dramatic overhauls to your existing business model or culture. Instead, consider implementing more flexible policies where you can, gradually if necessary, and give your workers more space to do what they do best. The better you treat them, and the more options you give them, the better they’ll perform, and the more likely they’ll be to stay with you.