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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How true flexibility in work can attract more employees

Remote is a great first stepping stone, but there is a whole subset of potential workers unavailable to companies because of the “standard operating hours” mentality.

How true flexibility in work can attract more employees
[Cristian Blázquez / Adobe Stock]

From the first session I worked in the Iowa House of Representatives, I dreamed of someday holding the title “VP of government affairs” for a national or global company. I wanted to be an influencer of policy for issues that mattered. From that point on, I set out to achieve that goal.

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I continued to work toward that dream, achieving titles of “state policy associate,” “policy manager,” and “deputy executive director.” For all those positions, I worked remotely—a rarity in 2013. I was fortunate to land jobs at nonprofits and companies that understood that the work could be done in multiple locations.

This stance—allowing employees to work remotely some or all of the time—is shared by many employers today. Yet we’re still facing massive workforce shortages in almost every industry. In my industry, education, teacher shortages are one of the biggest concerns keeping district leaders up at night. This is true for leaders in industries across the nation, leaving many focused on building workforce pipelines as a long-term solution.

MOVING PAST REMOTE

What is the next frontier? I believe we have to move past remote work and focus on true flexibility. In 2018, I had my first child. For many women, this means making the tough decision of staying home or going to work. I decided that it wasn’t an either-or, and I was determined to make it work, so I started consulting.

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Consulting took remote work and added actual flexibility. At most full-time jobs, working hours are still typically 9-5. But what that rigid schedule over looks is that employees are capable of getting a full 40 hours of work in (we can talk about why 40 hours is the magical number another time), even if they happen outside what is considered “standard operating hours.”

The biggest benefit to a flexible model is that in my experience, it greatly limits the need for childcare. (Speaking of, childcare is another area facing massive shortages and long waiting lists.) Because of my flexibility as a consultant, over the past three years, I have found if I have two days a week with at least a three-hour chunk of time (as many agree, three hours is the best for focus) during typical workday hours, I can schedule calls, write articles, work on research projects, engage in networking opportunities, and still never miss any of my children’s major milestones. (And also go to the park on nice days.) Besides those three hours during “regular” days, I am able to work before my children wake up and after they go to sleep at night, and on the weekend if necessary. There are many weeks where I work more than 40 hours.

Occasionally I see a VP of government affairs position that interests me, and honestly, I consider applying just to see how far I could get. But at the end of the day, it mostly still requires the 9-5 workday, and that is something that I could now never go back to.

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FLEXIBILITY IN A CORPORATE SETTING

This all seems great for one single consultant, right? Well there are many other employees like me who have deep knowledge and expertise in their fields. And now they’re banding together, leaving corporate careers and striking out as consultants. Doing so allows employees in any stage of life to work together on a schedule that works for them. This leads to a happier work/life balance and also increasing income. This model should speak not only to women, but also to men. It is incredible the projects that can be taken on when a team consists of experts in a similar field but with different subareas. There is no grant or project off the table with that kind of expertise.

Remote is a great first stepping stone, and perhaps needed to build the trust of senior leadership, but there is a whole subset of potential workers unavailable to companies because of the “standard operating hours” mentality. It’s time to examine what flexibility truly looks like in the workforce and how it could specifically be applied to your industry.


Susan Gentz is a partner at K20Connect, and an education policy expert working to inspire innovation in education.

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