Has Flexibility Stalled?

By Richard Coleman.
Team - 1

At Interchange we think that there’s an emerging backlash against flexibility in Australian workplaces. We hear rumblings and complaints every single week. This is frustrating because from both a personal perspective and from my direct experience at Interchange I know that flexibility supports amazing personal and business value.

Ten years ago flexibility was one of the hottest topics among People and Culture professionals, it was seen as the best intervention for retention, talent attraction and delivering on diversity targets. Well-being professionals recognised the capacity for flexibility to support healthy lifestyles and to help people manage stress. Operational managers saw it as a way to manage peaks and troughs, keep talent and deliver better outcomes. Most business implemented variations on the theme of supporting individuals to create the flexible working structure that worked well.

The backlash sounds like this:

  • “You could shoot a gun in here on a friday and not hit anyone.”
  • “Remember when we could have a meeting F2F”
  • “I never know where anyone is”
  • “Here comes the afternoon shift”
  • “Thought you’d show up did ya?”
  • “The boss doesn’t come in on a tuesday – so nobody else does either”

We’ve been talking to a number of clients and getting their perspectives about whether the backlash is real and why it’s happening. There is a mixed sense about our idea of the backlash, people tell us everything from ‘absolutely it’s real – HR has basically stopped it’, through to ‘there are problems but they are not insurmountable – we’ve just got to get better at it ‘ and ‘Not at all, it is massive in our business, any backlash would cause a riot’. Where people do see issues, they talk most commonly about an appropriate give and take between businesses and employees; that people who exploit the arrangements and don’t deliver are seen as damaging flexibility for everyone. We also hear that some leaders don’t have the skills and capabilities to manage flexible teams. The third most common reason is the lack of access to effective technology to support flexible work.

Ultimately these issues come down to a lack of effective planning and accountability for flexibility. However, none of these criticisms go to the heart of whether providing flexible working is a good idea. The business case stacked up ten years ago and if anything the drivers that made that case have strengthened not diminished. Talent is still difficult to find, retention is harder than ever, employees expect flexibility and deliver expectations and customer service expectations continue to increase. Our challenge as leaders is not to walk away from providing flexible working but to ensure that it works, for the individuals and for the business.

The business case stacked up ten years ago and if anything the drivers that made that case have strengthened not diminished.

As we reflected on the the feedback around flexibility, we decided that we wanted to build a suite of tools for people and culture professionals to support flexibility within their workplaces. Every single person in Interchange works flexibly including me as the CEO and my partner and Founder Gabrielle Harris. This openness to flexibility allows us to meet customer needs, access talent that otherwise would choose to go elsewhere, to employ students at the cutting edge of technology and culture and to manage our peaks and troughs. Being able to provide flexible work aligns with our personal values and business values, it enables us to be inclusive and drives us to be better.

This openness to flexibility allows us, to meet customer needs…

We’ve now launched our downloadable flexibility support materials including a VR immersive film, facilitator guides and toolkit. Contact us on for more information.

If there is an anti-flexibility backlash – we want to help people fight it! If there isn’t we want to support people to do it well.

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