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Employers can’t afford to get flexibility wrong

Amidst all the talk of flexible working hours and asynchronous communication, some employers and business leaders might be wondering what all the fuss is about and dismiss it as a passing trend

But a new report from Qatalog and GitLab shows that employers need to pay close attention, as the stakes are high. Two-thirds (66%) of workers surveyed in the report said they would consider looking for a new role if their ability to work flexible hours was removed or limited. This rate was even higher amongst those between the age of 21 and 34, rising to 76%. 

And to hammer home the point, more than four in ten (43%) said they would consider taking a lower-paid role if it gave them more flexibility to choose when they work. Again, this sentiment was more common among the younger generation, at 48%. 

But what if workers had to choose between two extremes - would they still say the same? Well, we asked them that too. When forced to choose between a ‘9 to 5 schedule and 25 meetings per week’ (the average number of meetings) and a company with ‘zero meetings and zero expectation of being online at specific times’, 62% of workers chose the latter.

The consequences of this should be clear. With talent markets as hot as ever, it’s already difficult to attract and retain talent, and flexibility is now a key battleground as companies vie to attract the best people. 


What’s driven this change?

The pandemic shook up the working world and gave everyone a taste of something different. It was desperately needed, too. We had worked the same way for decades – commuting to an office to do work in the presence of others during a fixed window of time – and we became used to it. Most of us never imagined that there could be a better way.

And now that workers have had a taste of an alternative, they don’t want to go back. Many people reassessed what is important to them in life. The flexibility to choose their own schedule meant they got to spend more time with friends and family, waste less time commuting, and opened up all sorts of opportunities that would have been much more difficult before. 

For example, 74% of those surveyed for the report said that increased schedule flexibility had allowed them to spend more time on hobbies, volunteering, and side hustles. As you’d imagine, this also had a significant and positive impact on people’s well-being. 65% of those regularly working asynchronously said that it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, compared to just 6% who said it had a negative impact. 


This new, asynchronous way of working, allows people to do what matters to them and makes them happier. No wonder people want more of it. 

That doesn’t mean our work has to suffer though. Quite the opposite. 81% of people said they were more productive and produced higher quality output when they had more flexibility to choose when they work.

A long-term shift?

It’s very early in this change to our working patterns and preferences. We’re still learning what works and what doesn't, and it may be some time before new norms become firmly established. However, the long-term trajectory seems to be clear, because the younger generation (those aged 21-34 in this survey) consistently valued flexibility more highly. 


The two most likely factors that explain this are a weaker attachment to pre-pandemic working patterns and familiarity with technology, as younger generations are tech natives, and tend to feel more comfortable working and collaborating online. 

Of course, the younger workers of today will soon become the business leaders of tomorrow (if they are not already), which will likely result in a more widespread change in attitudes, once they start to make the rules. So, for anyone who still thinks flexible and asynchronous work is a short-term trend, this should be a wake-up call. 

Non-negotiable employee needs

Ultimately, if companies want to remain competitive, they can’t afford to get this wrong. Nearly all knowledge workers know what it’s like to work flexibly and they want more. When workers come to assess a prospective new job, they will look at the role itself, the salary, and the flexibility on offer. It is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ and, as we have just discovered, for younger generations it will be non-negotiable. 

In the end, the laggards will have to adapt or die, as asynchronous work is already proving to be a competitive advantage. Not only can you hire the best people, who have time and headspace to do their best work, but they will be happier and more motivated.

To find out how to transform your organization to an async first way of working - download a standalone guide from Qatalog and GitLab, featuring 12 practical recommendations here.

Sam was previously the Qatalog Comms Lead and is now a Communications Consultant, working on behalf of other prominent technology companies.
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