How Leaders Can Support a Flex Work Environment Featuring Dr John Hopkins

What are some of the biggest challenges with flex work and how can leaders keep their teams connected and engaged in this working environment? We spoke with Dr Hopkins earlier this week about all things flex work. 
Kathryn Leslie
December 21, 2021
6 minute read

What are some of the biggest challenges with flex work and how can leaders keep their teams connected and engaged in this working environment? We spoke with Dr Hopkins about all things flex work. 

Dr John Hopkins is the Founder of WorkFLEX and an Associate Professor in Supply Chain Management at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. His company WorkFLEX offers online courses, consulting and research services to improve the transition of newly-remote workers to flex work. Dr Hopkins’ interest in flex work began in 2014 when researching the impact of traffic congestion in cities and how to reduce it. He's been running research projects in the flex work space for 8 years now and is passionate about promoting greater workplace flexibility. 

“The challenge is finding the right solution for your situation, your people and your resources. “

Hear what he had to say below.

1. You first became interested in flex work in 2014, when you were looking at its impact on traffic congestion. Can you explain a bit more about how this sparked your interest?

I was looking at a project in January of 2014 and noticed that our cities are getting more and more congested and this posed a problem not only for us getting to and from work, but also for supply chains. It is still a huge challenge today and probably becoming increasingly challenging as more and more people live in the cities. So we asked ourselves: “Why do we have congestion and what can we do to resolve it?”. It was a side project at the time but it’s something that I became really interested in. One thing I found out really quickly was that cities aren’t congested all the time. No matter where you live in the world (whether that’s Dubai, New York or London), the cities aren’t congested at 3am - they’re congested at times particularly when people are moving to and from work. People have followed this very rigid schedule for over 100 years where the vast majority of us in the city are knowledge workers (you don’t get too many factories in the middle of the city). People who work in the cities tend to be sitting in front of a computer all day. So, why do we still follow this routine of Monday to Friday 9 to 5 traveling from somewhere in the suburbs where we can afford to live to the middle of the city to work, when often all we’re doing is carrying our laptop from a to b? If we’re not travelling into the office because that’s where the tools are anymore, then why are we still doing it? It was almost like a habit. It was just the way things were, the status quo. 

Now that COVID has come along, it has acted as a circuit breaker and everybody is asking those questions. Two years ago, we travelled to the office because that’s all we knew and that’s the way everybody else did it. We didn’t challenge that status quo because nobody else was doing it.

Even our own research well before COVID showed that 80% of workers in Australia never worked from home. What’s now happened in the last 18 months to 2 years is that lots of people have been forced into working from home. It’s important to note that that’s not workplace flexibility, they were forced into working from home because there was a pandemic. As challenging as it’s been, we’ve actually found that some things work better now or we’ve realized that we were wasting on average two hours a day just from commuting when we could be investing in ourselves and our wellbeing.

We’re learning from the last two years and we’re asking ourselves if we want to go back to the office full time - and the resounding answer to that is no. There is still some demand for the office for sure. In terms of our research, it’s almost bookended. The number of people who want to work remotely full time is around 10% and equally the number of those who want to go back into the office full time is pretty low as well (around 10-15%). The vast majority in the middle say they want to do a bit of both. They want to be able to have greater flexibility, do some things from home and not have to travel to the office everyday. They still want to have those in-person interactions, sense of community and connection with colleagues. 

2. How has your view of flex work evolved since then?

My view hasn't necessarily changed, but the world's view has. I would say from my own personal experience with the subject between 2014 and early 2020, not a lot happened. A lot of people were interested in it, but not many people were doing it. Organizations that I spoke to quite often would even have a policy that said all these wonderful things about how flexible they were, but when you actually spoke to the employees, there was no flexibility at all - it just wasn’t implemented. There’s a lot of talk around it but not a lot of action. 

COVID has been a huge catalyst for the discussion and relevance of this issue. As everyone quickly became a distributed workforce, this topic has become a real focus firstly from a business continuity perspective (i.e. we can’t come into work anymore, so how are we going to keep the business going?). Now, we’re getting into this really interesting period where we’re looking at flexibility as something that can improve our work life balance whilst not losing any productivity. In many cases, it’s actually improving productivity because we want to keep our staff happy and a really good positive that’s come out of COVID is that we talk about wellbeing and burnout a lot more openly than we did before. Burnout existed well before COVID but I think now it’s okay for people to say they’re not okay and I think wellbeing/wellness is definitely higher up on the agenda for most corporations now. 

It’s all about how we can be as productive as we’ve ever been, but look over our staff more. And of course, if you keep your staff happy and healthy, they’re probably going to be more engaged and less likely to leave. 

3. What do you think is the biggest challenge with adopting a flex work environment?

The biggest challenge is that you can’t keep everybody happy all the time. It’s impossible. My prediction is that after COVID, most knowledge workers will have a lot more flexibility than they had before COVID. But, they probably still won’t have as much flexibility as they wanted. 

A huge advantage is the fact that we’ve had this forced period of working from home where we’ve learned a lot. We’ve really had this “try before you buy” experience. We’ve done it. We didn’t want to do it, but we’ve done it. So we can learn from that.

I think it’s about finding something that’s practical and applicable. The biggest challenge is managing it and the realization that it’s never going to be this perfect scenario or perfect situation.

In math, you’ll have one answer to everything. In management, you just have the best answer for what you have. The challenge is finding the right solution for your situation, your people and your resources.

4. What do you think are the biggest benefits of flex work to the individual?

For the individual, work life balance and the ability to have some level of control over where and when you do your work tasks. And also, time is probably the best thing you can give to anybody. So being able to save some time from commuting and put that time aside for your family or home life, do more school drop offs, and all those other things that make you feel happy about your life. Overall, workplace flexibility sees a greater work life balance.

5. How can leaders keep distributed teams connected and engaged in the flex working world?

That’s a great question and the real focus of the research that I’m involved in at the moment.

From a leader’s perspective, if you’re leading a hybrid team, then you need to work hybrid yourself. The worst thing any leader can do in a hybrid environment is to come to the office every day because that creates silos. Quite often, people will follow what leaders do. They set the example and they set the precedent for what is formally or informally the expectation of behaviour within any team. It’s important that leaders spend as much time working remotely as they do in the office so that you don’t set up that culture or proximity bias that can occur.

One thing I will say is that in terms of hybrid meetings - having a remote-first or a “one online, all online” philosophy tends to work pretty well. You may have a group of people that are in the office, but everybody still joins the meeting online to ensure a consistent experience. 

I’ve seen organizations try and do it differently and it just doesn’t work. When four or five people are having ad hoc conversations in the room and others online can’t hear that, it creates inconsistency. Over time, technologies may evolve whereby we can do that - we can be in the office and still communicate effectively with other people online. But at the moment, that just doesn’t exist or maybe organizations haven’t necessarily invested in the infrastructure to enable them to do that.

Overall, my two recommendations are for the leader to lead by example and be remote and in-office yourself - don’t favour one mode over the other. In terms of those communications in meetings, definitely “one online, all online” and remote-first.

Looking for a calendar app that helps you navigate the flex working world? Download Nook Calendar for free today.

Whether you’re a sales superstar, in-demand consultant, busy recruiter, or someone who simply needs to schedule a lot of meetings, one thing’s for sure—you’ve probably booked a lot of them over the past two years.

Hybrid work has forced the majority of our meetings online, and while we appreciate being able to wear sweatpants during normal work hours, the time-consuming ballet that is sharing your availability, finding a time to meet, and adding it to your calendar isn’t quite as enjoyable. 

Speaking with everyone from solopreneurs to seasoned professionals, it seems like a lot of people find meeting scheduling software either costly, impersonal, or just plain boring. And Calendly and other alternatives don’t always cut it.

We hear you. 

Everyone is different, and so is how they work. Making good first impressions is important, and you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them or basic customizations and integrations with your meeting booking system.

Nook Calendar’s meeting proposal feature is already used by tons of high-performing teams for selecting and proposing meeting times outside of their organization. 

Now, we’re making things even easier by letting you build personal pages with shareable calendar-booking links, right in Nook Calendar. Add them to your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website, or messages when finding a time to meet.

We think it’s the best meeting scheduling software out there, and we’re excited for you to give it a try, so let’s get started.

Here’s How to Set Up a Personal Booking Page in Nook Calendar

First off, if you’re new to Nook Calendar—hello! (If you’re already a Nook user, you can skip ahead.)

You’re going to start by syncing your calendar—either from Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook—and entering your work email address.

Once you approve any necessary permissions, you’ll set up your People Bar. Search for any connections and add the people you interact with the most when scheduling meetings.

From there, you can add any additional calendars you want to see (add your personal one, if you like, to further prevent any overlaps when scheduling meetings), integrate with Zoom (so you can launch calls straight from your calendar), and choose your preferred display setting—select Match OS, Light Mode, or Dark Mode.

Launch Nook Calendar, and you’re ready to set up your online meeting scheduler.

Now, the fun begins

You’re going to start by claiming your unique URL for sharing your meeting availability page. 

Your first name appears by default, but really, it can be anything. We recommend using your full name (e.g., /john-smith).

(You can always change your URL in the future, as long as it’s still available.)

From there, you want to complete your profile. 

Your profile pic is automatically pulled in from your Microsoft or GCal account.

But you can add your name, job title, welcome message, and links to social media profiles or professional website, so guests know a bit more about you when booking a meeting. 

Then, you can start setting your weekly availability.

Nook Calendar defaults to traditional time blocks—9–12 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. These are the hours someone can book a meeting from your personal page. Adjust them based on your availability. 

Your timezone is automatically set to your local time, but you can change it if you primarily work with people in a different timezone and it’s better to visualize that when setting your availability.

Choose which calendar you want to accept meetings in—it can only be booked in one, but Nook Calendar will automatically reference your availability in other calendars you’ve synced to prevent double-bookings when someone schedules a meeting.

Now, it’s time to set up some paramaters. 

You can set up your preferred meeting duration in either 15, 30, 45-minute or one-hour increments (or a custom time).

You can also add buffer time to give yourself a break between meetings, or set a lead time of up to 24 hours, so no one can book any last-minute meetings.

And you’re all set! You can preview what the page will look like, then share it with contacts or add it to your LinkedIn profile (we suggest adding it as a secondary URL), email signature, and anywhere else you do business.

Once someone books time in your calendar, you’ll receive an email and get a notification in the Pulse.

If you ever need to make any changes, you can access your personal meeting page in the bottom of the Magic Panel and make any adjustments—either to your weekly availability or personal information.

You can also remove your availability by simply creating events in Nook Calendar and marking them as Busy to block off time and prevent any bookings.

Nook Calendar’s new personal pages for sharing meeting availability are available on Web, iOS, and Android. 
If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Hit us up in our Slack Community or contact us through Support.  

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