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Will 2023 be the year flexible working culture finally succeeds?

5 Jan 2023

Thanks to all the talk over the past few years about flexible working, we all know that flexibility is not just for acrobats. It’s about culture, too.

At this stage, we’ve heard all about how much some employers and employees love flexible working and what a huge a trend it has become to choose your own destiny in the world of work. To the point that the term ‘flexible work’ gets thrown around so much it is in danger of becoming slightly overused. But there’s no denying that what flexible work entails – or should entail – is popular right now, and rightly so.

Put simply, flexible work just means less rigid workplace practices – and that’s something we can all get behind, beyond the buzz.

Parents, young people, older people and people with disabilities stand to benefit most from less rigid measures around things such as where they work, how they work and when they work.

As SiliconRepublic.com’s previous coverage on all things flexible work has found, technology is a key factor when it comes to its success rate.

With tech tools from Zoom to Trello now co-existing alongside more traditional practices such as the in-person lunch meeting, it’s up to employers to figure out how exactly all these ways of working can work together for everyone.

But while tech is a useful tool, employers would do well to remember that it is just that: a tool. What they need to focus on is workplace culture, or company culture as it might be called now to include remote employees.

Anil Varanasi, co-founder and CEO of California-headquartered internet infrastructure company Meter, reckons that in-person work is here to stay for 2023, but we will see the continued “decentralisation of single HQs”.

“As companies navigate the new hybrid work world, I’m hearing from CHROs and HR executives that they’re moving from large centralised HQs to smaller satellite offices around the globe to enable face-to-face time for their largely remote and distributed population,” Varanasi said.

“In large cities, I predict we’ll continue to see HQs downsize in favour of smaller hubs, with several intentions for more hubs in emerging, and perhaps surprising, cities.”

Of course, companies are already rethinking how and where they choose to locate – or not locate – their physical offices because tech affords them the option to “decentralise”, as Varanasi put it.

More than ever, platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco are going to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to day-to-day working with colleagues. These are what’s known as unified communications systems, or platforms that allow enterprises to do all of their communications in one single system.

According to Paul Dunne, a senior director at tech comms company Poly, the past five years have seen unified comms systems “grow at an astronomical pace in Ireland and beyond, fuelled by the pandemic and business’s quests to streamline communications for their teams”.

“One of the core things that has driven the rise in united communications is the rise of hybrid working, where tools such as video conferencing, file sharing and instant messaging become massively important for productivity, teamwork and time management,” he said.

But decentralised workplaces only function well if a company’s culture is strong enough to keep all employees happy – no matter who they are or where they work.

For most, that’s an exceedingly tall order.

According to Pip White, SVP and general manager of Slack’s EMEA division, it’s not impossible. She said that companies who “get it right” in terms of culture will be “thinking digital-first and prioritising their digital HQ over the physical one”.

“Workplaces now aren’t defined by where people gather, but how they feel included in the collective shared mission and culture of a company,” White pointed out.

As a messaging platform aimed at workers, Slack has been pushing for the adoption of the digital HQ, conducting research and polls into what workers want and expect.

“The ‘remote versus office’ debate is over and hybrid is not just the future, it is the now,” reckons White.

“People have reorientated their lives with the expectation that they will no longer be in the office five days a week, and firms that don’t recognise that will haemorrhage talent.”

2023 could well be the year that more and more employers finally find the key to running a company staffed by happy, fulfilled and efficient flexible workers.

But for the moment, most businesses are still navigating how to deliver both flexibility and connection in a market struggling to cope with economic downturn.

The point about the economic downturn and the cost-of-living problem that is affecting workers’ happiness is an unwelcome reminder for business leaders that they will also have to be mindful of external factors when it comes to making culture decisions.

For instance, the success of decentralising and swapping physical office locations for online HQs will depend on the availability of 5G and also on how well equipped employees are in cybersecurity. No company wants a worker inadvertently causing security issues when they’re working remotely, after all.

In the end, outcomes will vary from company to company and from team to team. Perhaps the best course of action for all concerned this coming year is to be aware of other people’s need for flexibility at work.

Being flexible is about compromise and adaptability; it’s not so much about cultural cartwheels. Those are best left to the acrobats.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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