Nearly half of employees who are not knowledge workers want their organisation to provide them with greater control over when, where and how much they work, according to Gartner. Yet most of these workers don’t have this flexibility.

The Gartner 2021 EVP Employee Survey of 5 000 employees in January 2021 revealed less than one-third of non-knowledge workers have flexibility in any area of their work.

Meanwhile, the Gartner 2021 Hybrid Workforce Panel Survey of 4 264 employees in January 2021 revealed that 75% of knowledge workers have increased expectations for working flexibly in the future.

“Even employees in roles that have not traditionally been thought of as flexible, such as retail employees, on-site essential personnel or IT field technicians, are seeking more flexibility and ownership over their work,” says Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice.

In today’s volatile labor market where there is a very real war for talent, organisations can better attract and retain talent by providing more choices, embracing radical flexibility and adjusting their understanding of flexible work to align with employee priorities.

HR leaders can implement the following strategies to expand the flexibility they offer to employees who are operating outside the traditional office setting:

Identify norms that help provide flexibility

Organisations must first establish norms around what specifically empowers their employees to complete their work. This approach allows business units, teams and individual employees to be accountable for their work – allowing more freedom for individuals to choose the work style and preferences that align with their needs and those of their team.

HR leaders should facilitate manager/employee conversations by equipping managers to determine the type of work styles that meet business objectives and how these can be adjusted to support more flexibility.

Determine activities within roles that can be flexible

HR leaders can help managers understand their employees’ work by prompting managers to map out the activities that make up an employee’s job.

Rather than classifying jobs themselves as remote or on-site, breaking down each job into a list of its associated activities, and analyzing which can be performed in any location, enables greater flexibility for all employees.

“There are often hidden opportunities for flexibility in all roles, even those commonly considered ineligible,” says Cambon. “For example, while the role of IT & tech support often has an inflexible on-call component, some tasks like answering queries can be done successfully under a more flexible arrangement. Identifying these hidden pockets of flexibility will go a long way in providing the sense of autonomy that employees crave.”

Source best practices from managers and cross-functional teams

Traditionally, most organizations lean on HR leaders to identify solutions to improve flexible work environments.

However, HR leaders and their teams often lack firsthand experience managing non-knowledge workers. HR leaders should collaborate with managers throughout the organisation who manage various employee segments and may already be implementing best practices for providing flexibility in their teams.

Additionally, HR leaders can assemble a cross-functional team to gain further understanding of how to extend flexibility for all employees. This approach allows HR to utilize the expertise and understanding of different business leaders and more importantly, empowers organisational collaboration.

“When organisations deliver radical flexibility, the percentage of employees who are defined as high performers increases by 40%,” saus Emily Strother, senior principal in the Gartner HR practice. “Leading organisations can drive performance by providing flexibility on all aspect of their work, and recognising their workforce comprises of people, not just employees.”