5 Things No One Tells You About Flexible Working (And They Suck)

You’ve heard it before, flexible working is great...but have you heard about how it also sucks?
  • Companies are increasingly heeding the call for more flexible working policies.
  • Flexible working provides many advantages for employers and employees alike.
  • Flexible working has its fair share of disadvantages, and they need to be addressed and clearly accounted for before anyone commits 100% to flexible working.

Technology has enabled people to work from anywhere, at anytime. As a result, the modern workforce craves and demands flexibility from employers; in fact,  research by Werk found that 96% of professionals need some sort of flexibility. Luckily, companies (and countries) are heeding the call for more flexible working options. 

The benefits of flexible working have been widely documented. But before we dive into them, let’s briefly agree on what flexible working means. Flexible working can take many shapes and forms, including: flexible work schedules (full time, part time, schedules that allow employees to come and as they need, etc.) and the ability to work remotely (from home, a coworking space, a hotel, a coffee shop, ettc.). 

As for the benefits…for companies, it can help reduce costs, provide them with access to a wider talent pool, help them attract talent, drive employee loyalty, and contribute to a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. 

For employees, flexible working can contribute to lower stress levels (no commute), it can help them be more productive (some people work best during off hours), it can improve wellness, it drives motivation (flexible working is associated with job satisfaction, which translates into engagement and motivation), and it provides them with the opportunity to spend more time with family and loved ones. 

While the benefits are great, there are downsides to flexible working, and it’s not always as glamorous and perfect as many make it out to be. For example, companies can struggle in managing remote teams, it can negatively impact their company culture, and it can raise security questions (particularly if employees have to regularly address sensitive and confidential information). 

So, if you’re a freelancer that gets to set your own schedule, an entrepreneur leading a startup, or an employee of a big corporation, here are a few things you need to know about flexible working before you decide to commit 100% to flexible work. 

1. It’s isolating

Being able to set your own hours or only go into the office when it’s really needed sounds wonderful…up until the point you come to realize that you can spend an entire day without speaking to another human being in person or that you haven’t left your house in a couple of days. Working by yourself can be lonely and isolating, and in severe cases, this can then turn into depression. 

So, if you’re someone that enjoys being around people and find that being around others inspires and motivates you, then flexible working might not be ideal for you. That or you might want to invest in a coworking membership. 

2. It’s hard to get work going

This isn’t the case for everyone, but many people perform their best when they have a structured routine they can follow. Flexible working policies empower individuals to work whenever it best suits them, but some people find that too much choice can be overwhelming and make it harder to get up and start working. 

This is especially the case if you work from home. 

Take it from someone that struggled to get used to flexible working: if you want to be able to work from home, you need to wake up, eat breakfast, shower, and get ready just as you would be if you were heading into the office. Staying in your pjs sounds great, but it really is not (it’s harder to focus and work when you’re so comfy you feel like staying in bed or just turning on Netflix while you slump in a couch). 

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Even if you don’t work from home and actually go into the office, going in at off hours can make it harder for you to settle in and start working, especially if the rest of the team has been in the office for some time now. As you walk in later in the morning, more people might be looking for you to solve questions or issues, you might feel like you’re behind emails, or that you need to chat with coworkers to make sure nothing important has happened. 

3. It’s hard to turn off from work

While flexible working can drive productivity levels, it can also increase the risk of burnout. Because people might not always work from the office, they often feel like they need to make up for that by  always being available, regardless of the time. 

Flexible working makes it harder to keep a line separating work from life, which can take a toll on people the longer they work from home. 

Here’s a personal anecdote: when I first started working from home, I would find myself chugging down breakfast at 6:30 a.m. as I read and responded to emails. In the evening, I would sometimes be reading or watching TV when I got a notification of an email; instead of ignoring that notification, I would proceed to read and respond to emails at 9:30 – 10:00 p.m. It got to the point that once I went to the gym around 4:30-5:00 a.m. and took my computer along with me to work as I did some cardio on the stationary bike. 

I lost my work-life balance and line, and it took some serious effort to get it back. I had to set some ground rules, like no work before 6:00 a.m. and no work after 9:00 p.m. This is especially hard to do if you have your email and other collaboration apps downloaded on your phone. 

5. People think that you don’t work (at all)

This is a serious one, though less common now that flexible working is becoming more like the norm.

It’s like an unspoken shared belief: if you’re not at work, then you’re not working. Especially if you do other activities throughout the workday like working out, grocery shopping, eating out, etc. This doesn’t just apply to those that live with you, but those that work with you, but they do so from an office. It can be demoralizing to know that people think this, and it can lead to frustration and people giving up on flexible working to avoid having to deal with snide comments.

Even if you happen to go into the office for a few hours a day, the minute you show up late or leave early, people might think that you’re simply slacking off. Which is not really the case. 

6. Miscommunication 

Great communication is key to the success of a team, project, and company. If team members aren’t able to communicate effectively, then things are likely to go downhill.

Unfortunately, flexible working can make communication efforts harder, especially if you have a mix of people that work from the office and others remotely. For starters, those that work together might have a chat and forget to share the information with other team members; then there’s the fact that time zones can make it harder to get information to the right person in a timely matter. 

More importantly, those that work flexibly tend to communicate with others via messaging apps–these apps are great, but they leave a lot to be assumed for. People don’t always know in which tone to read a response you sent, and what you’re saying might be taken in the wrong way or misunderstood. 

So there you have it, flexible working is great…but it’s not for everyone. While it offers a plethora of advantages, it also has some downsides that need to be equally considered. 

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