Behind the headlines: What’s really happening with flexibility?

Behind the headlines: What’s really happening with flexibility?

Posted January 8, 2024

Ah, flexibility. If we had a dollar for every news article about work-from-home vs. office, we’d have enough money to buy a luxurious floating office in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, where the debate would mysteriously disappear. Alas, the headlines don’t seem to be going anywhere, so we thought we’d collate some findings about what’s really happening in the job market. What does flexibility actually look like? What are hiring managers expecting as we head into 2024? And are candidates having to be, well, flexible, in their desired work arrangements?

Here’s what we found:

Flummoxed by flex

Recent articles about flexible work have reduced the topic to a binary, all-or-nothing debate about the office and work from home. The reality is flexible work is far more nuanced than that.

In fact, flexible work covers remote work, flexible hours, compressed workweeks, job sharing, part-time work, flexible scheduling, annualised hours, zero-hour contracts, hot desking, job redesign, phased retirement, flex places, and much much more. Phew!

According to Talent Sydney Candidate Manager Saqib Zia, flexibility is taking many different forms in newly negotiated roles.

“I’ve worked alongside many organisations that very much value work-life balance and offer it in different ways. For example, accommodating school pick-up and drop-offs, supporting other life commitments, or working irregular office hours. Flexibility may not always equate to work from home days, but instead, can be negotiated and shown through different arrangements.”

Mismatched expectations

So, what are job seekers and hiring managers expecting when it comes to flexibility in 2024? According to a survey of over 1,100 Australian employees, 45% would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for flexible work. There’s no doubt that flexibility remains a critical item on job-seekers’ wish lists.

Talent Adelaide Candidate Manager Taliya Lukeman observes, “When it comes to candidates’ expectations of employers, flexibility with working hours and working from home is still important.”

The same goes for candidates in Queensland, with Talent Brisbane Candidate Manager Steph Rose observing: “Candidates’ main expectations continue to be flexible working arrangements from prospective employers, whether that be part-time, work from home, work your own hours, etc.”

In most cases, employers are happy to accommodate this flexibility.

According to Talent Wellington Senior Consultant Katie Kemp, “While employers are very much still embracing and offering flexible working to help support individuals’ circumstances, we are seeing more employers preferring that team members spend the majority of their time in the office, with 1-2 days from home.”

However, many hiring managers are expecting increased presence in offices.

“Within the past 10 months, I’ve increasingly seen a drastic change between a candidate’s ideology of what ‘flexibility’ is versus what’s currently out on the market. Candidates that are currently employed and experienced tenure during lockdown times, more often than not, expect a role to include 2-3 days WFH flexibility as a given,” says Talent’s Saqib Zia. “We’ve observed businesses go from a minimum 2-3 days in the office to a change of minimum 4 days in the office – and those expectations are set as mandates in many cases. From a business’s perspective, they are paying top dollar for office space, often in multiple geographical locations. Reasons cited by hiring managers for increased presence include re-igniting office culture and justifying spending costs.”

Moving beyond mandates

Amid increasing office mandates, many organisations are finding success in a balanced approach.

According to Talent Solutions Client Delivery Lead Jasmine Alderton, employers who have taken a people-first approach to their working environment are reaping the rewards when it comes to engagement and productivity.

“Giving people the flexibility to work in a preferred environment when required for ‘deep focus’ tasks whilst bringing them together in-office on days where collaboration is needed has boded well,” Alderton says. “There will never be a replacement for the information flow that happens when people are in the same room together, but allowing your people the flexibility to work from home will not only lead to being an outcomes-oriented environment but also give your people the opportunity to look after their well-being and remain competitive in attracting and retaining the talent you need for your business.”

Talent People & Culture lead Georgia Townsend says while it’s natural to want a buzzing office of activity, you can’t mandate a great culture.

“It’s not as simple as flexible working or not flexible working—the debate is constantly evolving far beyond a yes or no question. Like most companies, we have been through a number of phases of trial and error with what flexible working can look like. To find that sweet spot that five years ago seemed impossible. What we’ve found is the best way to get the most out of everyone, driving engagement and keeping our culture alive, is to truly understand what drives our people. What are they really looking for out of flexibility? How can we marry that to business needs to optimise business performance? The magic answer is that not one size fits all. And what works now didn’t work one year ago and may need to be revisited in a year’s time.”

Our advice, as we move into 2024, is to embrace the diversity of flexible work arrangements beyond the work-from-home versus office debate. Candidates, showcase your adaptability to various options like remote work, compressed schedules, and job sharing. Employers, recognise that flexibility extends beyond these binaries and be open to tailoring arrangements based on individual preferences. By fostering a culture that values adaptability, both parties can navigate the evolving landscape of workplace flexibility more effectively.