Is the future of work flexible – or not? Governments decide.

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

It’s a sign of major disruption when governments lead the way compared to big companies, but that’s exactly what’s happening with hybrid work. Flexibility has become a cornerstone of the modern public sector workplace, as we can see from the federal government’s recent negotiations with employees and from New York City’s agreement with the largest municipal union.

It’s a sign of major disruption when governments lead the way compared to big companies, but that’s exactly what’s happening with hybrid work. Flexibility has become a cornerstone of the modern public sector workplace, as we can see from the federal government’s recent negotiations with employees and from New York City’s agreement with the largest municipal union. It is clear that flexibility is more important than ever, and private companies would do well to take note and a data-driven, employee-oriented approach to hybrid working.

Related: Employers: Hybrid Work Isn’t the Problem – Your Guidelines Are. Here’s why and how to fix them.

The Federal Government’s Position on Remote Work

The negotiations between the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Canadian federal government emphasized the importance of remote work. The government agreed to review remote working arrangements on a case-by-case basis, moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” policy. This outcome shows a commitment to tailoring work arrangements to the needs of individual employees.

In turn, the US federal government has recently asked agencies to evaluate how to balance more in-person work where needed, while still providing flexibility for remote work. That balanced approach—focusing on personal work only where necessary—is consistent with the Canadian government’s new case-by-case approach and mirrors the attitude of the US government. negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union. It goes against the top-down, one-size-fits-all, command-and-control policies of companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Disney, Apple, and many others.

This progressive approach to remote work signals a significant shift that could impact the private sector. Companies that want to remain competitive should keep a close eye on these developments, as federal government policies are often a barometer of the broader job market.

New York City embraces flexibility

In a move that mirrors the actions of the federal government, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a preliminary contract agreement with District Council 37 (DC 37), the city’s largest municipal union. This agreement includes a plan to allow some non-essential city employees to work remotely starting in June, with a “flexible work committee” set up to oversee the pilot program.

The contract reflects a shift in Mayor Adams’ stance on hybrid work. Adams has previously been an advocate of a strict return policy, recognizing the need for flexibility in the face of high vacancy rates and increased demand for hybrid work opportunities. This decision from New York City, a global business center, sends a clear message: flexibility is the future of work and organizations must adapt to stay relevant.

A lesson for the private sector

Both the two federal governments and New York City’s actions serve as valuable lessons for private companies. As the world of work continues to evolve, embracing flexibility isn’t just an advantage, it’s a necessity.

First, flexibility stimulates the employee contentment and morale. As evidenced by the negotiations with PSAC, AFGE and DC 37, employees increasingly value the ability to work remotely or on a hybrid schedule. Companies that meet these preferences will find it easier to attract and retain top talent.

Second, flexibility leads to increased productivity. Studies have shown that employees who work in a hybrid or remote environment are more productive than their office-bound counterparts. By letting employees choose where and when they work, companies can take advantage of this increased efficiency.

Finally, it promotes flexibility inclusivity. Remote and hybrid work arrangements can help level the playing field for workers who may face barriers in traditional office environments, such as people with disabilities or caring responsibilities. By promoting a more inclusive workplace, companies can benefit from a wide range of perspectives and ideas.

The private sector’s path to agility

As the public sector continues to champion flexibility, the private sector must follow suit to keep pace with these changes. Companies that embrace a flexible work environment will position themselves as progressive and attractive employers. Here are some steps for private organizations looking to adopt a more flexible work culture:

  • Assess the landscape: Identify functions and roles within your organization that can be performed remotely or on a hybrid basis without compromising productivity. Evaluate the feasibility of incorporating flexible working options and the necessary tools and infrastructure to support this shift.
  • Establish guidelines: Develop clear guidelines and expectations for employees who work remotely or on a hybrid schedule. This includes communication protocols, performance statistics, and procedures for requesting and approving flexible working arrangements.
  • Invest in technology: Ensure employees have access to the tools and technology they need to work effectively from anywhere. This includes video conferencing software, secure remote access, and cloud-based collaboration tools.
  • Foster a culture of trust: Empower employees to manage their own schedules and workloads and trust them to deliver results. Encourage open communication, feedback and transparency to build trust and maintain strong working relationships.
  • Monitor and adjust: Regularly review and assess the success of your flexible working policy and make adjustments as necessary. Solicit feedback from employees to identify areas for improvement and potential obstacles.

The ripple effect of flexibility

As governments pave the way for flexible work, the private sector must follow suit or you risk losing top talent. The benefits of embracing flexibility are many: increased employee satisfaction, improved productivity, and a more inclusive workplace. By adopting flexible work policies, companies not only improve their internal operations, but also contribute to a wider cultural shift that values ​​work-life balance and well-being.

Indeed, the ripple effect of flexibility is far-reaching. As more organizations adopt flexible working practices, cities and local communities can experience reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality and reduced demand for office space, leading to a more sustainable and resilient urban environment. In addition, the widespread adoption of flexible work policies can help address societal issues such as gender inequality as it allows for more equal participation in the workforce.

Related: The Future of Hybrid Work? A new poll confirms what we’ve known all along.

A flexible future awaits

The union negotiations of the two federal governments and New York City demonstrate the growing importance of flexibility in the workplace. As the world continues to grapple with the ongoing pandemic and its lasting impacts, demand for flexible working arrangements is only expected to increase.

By learning from the example of the public sector, private companies can stay ahead and reap the benefits of a flexible work environment. As we move forward, the key to success lies in adaptability and a willingness to embrace change. The future is flexible, and it’s time for organizations to seize the opportunity.