There’s big buzz these days about our ongoing shift to flex work. And it’s not just the coworking industry that’s buzzing… the conversation is popping up everywhere. So what’s the big deal? And what does a flex future mean for the rest of us?
The basic idea behind “the future is flex”
In very basic terms, the idea of flex or hybrid work is that knowledge workers will no longer report to a central office for a 40-hour work week. What this looks like will vary quite a bit based on the company and the individual. Companies like Automattic, a flex pioneer, have a 100% remote workforce with team and company meetings happening at fun destinations around the world. This model means employees can live and work from anywhere, meaning that the company can recruit talent from all around the world.
Other companies will likely adapt something less radical, in which employees work at home and report to a central office 1-2 days a week for face-to-face meetings. In this model, employees might opt to work at their local coworking space (woot woot) if working at home is not suitable. Others still might adopt a hub and spoke model, where there is a central HQ and some smaller spokes around the country where employees can meet.
Why flex is exciting
There are so many exciting aspects of our shift to flex work. For one, it allows employees to design their own work week, ideally striking a better work-life balance and freeing up time to take the kids to soccer or hit the grocery store when it isn’t busy. Flex work also eliminates the time-honored tradition of the commute, which we have recently discovered is incredibly wasteful not only in terms of time but also in resources and carbon footprint.
Personally, I’m excited that flex work allows people to spend more time in their home communities rather than large financial centers, meaning that there’s more foot traffic to support our main street businesses. Furthermore, we may see a migration out of large cities as it becomes unnecessary to report to an office. Small cities could thrive once again.
The negative impacts of flex
With every positive outcome there are always some negative impacts to consider. First of all, we must remember that knowledge workers benefit from flex and hybrid work. Workers in other industries, such as customer service, hospitality, and healthcare will still report to work on a set schedule. As these workers start to feel left behind, will they abandon their positions for something new? We are already witnessing a staffing shortage in the restaurant industry of epic proportions, and we will need to think critically about how to support workers in these sectors moving forward. (Hint: We can’t just leave it up to restaurant owners.)
Additionally, we have already seen how working at home can adversely affect women, who often handle a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare. I can report that attendance of female members at Groundwork has stayed low throughout 2020 and 2021. While we used to enjoy gender balance, the pandemic has left our membership primarily male. Will hybrid work leave certain members of the workforce behind?
The short answer to the question of what’s next is that nobody knows. (Aren’t you sick of hearing that?) We’re in the midst of a massive shift in the way we work, and we get to figure it out together. My take is that we need to be intentional as we move forward: Intentional about what we need for ourselves to live healthy lives, and intentional about implementing policies that maintain equity and fair opportunities in the workforce.
The next few years will be very interesting. Are you ready for a flex future?