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Redesigning work for flexibility through the lens of employee experience

By Rhonda Elcock , Lesli Jennings and Nisha Buddig | May 10, 2021

Organizations need to start with understanding the fundamentals of their work design – where, when and how work gets done.
Future of Work|Employee Experience|Ευεξία
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About the series: Reimagining flexible work

In this series, we discuss how employers are reimagining flexible work as they prepare for a post-pandemic future and seek to deliver an enhanced employee experience. Specifically, we’ll explore strategies and programs to create a resilient and dynamic organizational culture that empowers both employers and employees to achieve their objectives and create a competitive advantage.

Explore the blog series.

As organizations prepare for a post-pandemic environment, flexible work is becoming more than a response to keeping employees safe. Our Flexible Work and Rewards Survey: 2021 Design and Budget Priorities report noted that in 2019, less than 15% of employers in North America had offered flexible work arrangements, but now, close to 60% are planning to make this practice a permanent policy.

This will surely be welcome news for almost a quarter of the workforce that would like to continue working from home all the time, according to our 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. Yet many employees have also realized that flexibility is still largely defined by when and where they can or need to do their work – and this of course factors into their pay, rewards and benefits. It can impact even their sense of wellbeing physically, emotionally, socially and financially.

In reimagining the future state of the workplace, the logical starting point would be understanding the fundamentals of where, when and how work gets done. For that, tapping into the employee experience can glean valuable insights on effectively redesigning work for flexibility.

Start with the fundamentals – work design and employee experience

In our breakthrough research on employee experience, we learned that flexibility is a way of life in high-performing organizations. It enables them to be agile in adapting to customers and the market and to excel at innovation. How did they get there? Among the key actions they took was listening to employees and letting them have a say about how they work.

Flexible work at its core is a balancing act that, when implemented successfully, can empower both employers to meet their business objectives (productivity, efficiency and innovation) and the employees to experience fulfillment from work (through autonomy and wellbeing). As mentioned, this starts with gaining a fundamental understanding of the organization’s work design – not only in its current form but, more so, its future state.

Redesigning work will require cross-functional teams representing a range of perspectives, including business operations, human resources, real estate, technology and workforce planning. Among their mandates will be to evaluate the existing job architecture through internal data gathering and external market research, and refining work options based on feedback from stakeholders, including leaders and employees. This methodology begins with deconstructing roles and reviewing them at a task level and identifying how they are done currently (Figure 1) and how they may be done in a future flexible strategy (Figure 2).

When addressing tasks, it’s important to consider when (time-sensitive or flexible),
Where (at a specific location or done anywhere) and how (collaboratively or independently) work gets done.
Figure 1. Task-level continuums
Consider flexible work options with regard to where,

when and how tasks get done, such as drop-in spaces, a compressed week/flexible hours, and job sharing or part-time employees

Figure 2. Flexible work options

Organizations answer fundamental questions as they evaluate readiness to support flexible work, including:

  • How do we ensure that the strategy is consistent with our culture and principles?
  • Can some tasks be automated or augmented by technology?
  • Do we need to leverage alternative talent options for some tasks?
  • Do we have the skills and technology to support flexible work options?
  • Do we have the processes and policies in place to manage a distributed workforce?
  • Are leaders equipped to manage tasks across various work scenarios?

There is one more question to be answered: Are we aligned with the employee experience of the work design?

A new approach – work personas

One of the approaches organizations could use to understand the impact of flexible work on the workforce is by creating work personas. A work persona is an archetype characterized by the nature of work (how), level of interaction with stakeholders (when) and interdependencies for collaboration across the organization (where).

A work persona can comprise several roles across multiple job families, but the where, when and how of certain roles can generally be bucketed together, therefore a wide variety of work personas could exist across an organization’s job architecture. Yet this method recognizes that there is often significant diversity in any given role – as different individuals with the same job title may have unique experiences and contributions, among other factors.

As an example, an organization’s IT support team and product manufacturing team may have a shared work persona in that their work is time sensitive, usually done in a specific location onsite and much of the work is collaborative in nature.

Essentially, creating work personas equips organizations with employee-level data on the task-level continuums (Figure 1) that actually happen on the ground. This insight can further enrich work redesign efforts and help determine which flexible work options (Figure 2) can provide optimal outcomes in terms of business requirements and the employee experience.

Work persona example 1

Work can be done at any time in a given day. Work can be carried out in a variety of places, and it is cognitive in nature. Collaboration is a major part of the work.

Possible flexible work options:

  • Where – satellite office/hub, scheduled remote
  • When – conventional work week, flex start/stop
  • How – full-time/part-time employee, talent sharing/exchange, flex retirement
Work persona example 2

Some tasks are time constrained, while others can be done at flexible times. Some tasks have a physical component and are location specific. Some tasks can be done independently, while others require collaboration.

Possible flexible work options:

  • Where – on campus, scheduled remote
  • When – conventional work week
  • How – full-time/part-time employee, talent sharing/exchange, flex retirement
Work persona example 3

The work is time sensitive or needs to be done at a specified time. The work must be done in a specific location and has a physical component. Collaboration is a major part of the work.

Possible flexible work options:

  • Where – on campus, scheduled remote
  • When – conventional work week
  • How – full-time employee, talent sharing/exchange, flex retirement

Ultimately, the decision to implement flexible work needs to come from a thorough examination of organizational data, a thoughtful consideration of business and work objectives and an understanding of the workforce. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for establishing a flexible work strategy. Fundamentally, it needs to be founded on how the organization and its workforce together envision how they can be continually agile, productive and innovative.


Senior Director, Talent and Rewards
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North America Work, Rewards and Careers Practice Leader
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Lead Associate, Talent Management and Organizational Alignment
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