By Corporate English Solutions

21 August 2023 - 09:26

How flexibility at work reshapes lives, communities and the environment

What if flexible working could transform not only how we work but also how we live? From empowering individuals and creating vibrant communities – to revitalising businesses and fostering a more sustainable future. Join us on a journey through the untapped potential of flexible work arrangements. And discover how embracing flexibility at work can positively impact society.


Reading time: 5 minutes

As the way we work and live evolves like never before, flexible working has stepped into the spotlight. It’s transformed from a ‘nice-to-have’ perk to one of the most sought-after employee benefits. 

And it’s not just about hybrid and remote work anymore. Flexible work arrangements come in all shapes and sizes: compressed workweeks, job sharing, results-only work environments (ROWE), shift swapping, seasonal work (and much more). 

In an age where employees seek greater freedom and autonomy, flexible work arrangements are allowing them to have it. Not only over ‘what’ they do but when, where, how (and even ‘why’) they work.

Yet flexible working isn’t about reshaping old ways of working; it’s about unlocking new possibilities. It has the far-reaching potential to empower individuals, breathe new life into businesses, bring communities together and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Come along with us as we delve into the many benefits of flexible working that often go unnoticed. Discover how it can positively impact society in powerful ways – far beyond improved performance and productivity.

Empowering society through flexibility at work

Breaking barriers: beyond limits and tradition towards greater gender equality  

How to balance career ambitions and family life? This is the age-old question many women have struggled to answer in the typical 9-to-5 work structure. And since women have historically taken on most household and caregiving responsibilities, this imbalance often limits their career advancement in traditional work settings.

Today, women are reaping the benefits of flexible working. Like Jessie, a talented software developer and mother of two. When her company introduced flexible work arrangements, she could adjust her schedule to pick up her children from school. Having flexibility not only improved her work-life balance but also opened up new leadership roles within the company. She no longer faces the dilemma women know so well: prioritise family or keep growing professionally.

Workplace flexibility is a powerful tool for tackling gender bias that often holds back women’s career progress. When workplaces welcome flexibility, it sends a strong message about their dedication to gender equality – since more women than men prefer flexible work options. As a result, it creates a more inclusive and diverse workforce.

Small towns, big impact: revitalising local economies through flexible working

What happens when ‘good’ job opportunities can be mostly found in big cities? It slows down the growth of smaller regions. And puts pressure on housing, transportation and public services in cities. Plus, smaller regions lose top talent and miss out on business initiatives and investments. This leads to unequal access to infrastructure and services, such as public transportation, education and healthcare.

Small towns and rural areas are making a big comeback – thanks to the rise in flexible working. 

Take Andrea’s example, a project manager who moved from Lisbon to Lagos, a small beach town in the Algarve region. When her tech company allowed fully remote options, she wanted to live closer to nature. And she’s not alone. Lagos attracts other flexible working professionals, like digital nomads. 

The geographical shift toward smaller regions is bringing a thriving local workforce that is revitalising local economies. And this influx attracts new businesses and investments. For instance, consider the U.K. government’s Project Gigabit, which aims to bring broadband to rural areas to support people to work from anywhere.

Strengthening bonds: community building through flexible working 

How can you be active in your community if you’re away from it all day? When people have long commutes that take them away from home, they lack the time (and energy) to participate fully in their communities.

When individuals work in flexible ways that fit their location, lifestyles and personal needs, they are more likely build stronger connections within their communities. People working from home or local co-working spaces tend to be more actively engaged with their neighbours, support local businesses and attend community activities. 

Going further, organisations can invest in developing flexible workspaces, like local satellite offices. This can boost remote and hybrid employees’ mental well-being, which is sometimes difficult to achieve when working from their kitchen tables. A flexible workspace outside city centres can have a positive ripple effect on the community. Creating social togetherness, growing local businesses and attracting a wide range of talent.

Boosting environmental impact and sustainability in the workplace with flexible working

Driving energy efficiency in the modern workspace

Long commutes are not the only thing that drains energy. Just think of the traditional office space, with all the lights, heating, cooling and electronic devices constantly used throughout the day. And sometimes, even when offices were closed. That’s a lot of wasted energy and high utility bills.

The office is not officially dead (yet). But embracing the flexible work revolution means fewer people in office spaces, making it possible to save energy. Over time, this would have a profound impact, especially since buildings make up over one third of global energy consumption and emissions. 

What are forward-thinking organisations doing? With fewer people in the office, many are implementing smart building systems that automatically adjust energy usage based on how many people are present. This decrease in energy consumption supports more sustainable energy practices. 

And some government leaders, like Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala, is changing their tune about flexible working when they see the financial savings from reduced energy. Sala relentlessly tried to get public servants back in the office post-pandemic. But now he is asking them to work more from home to cut high municipal energy bills. 

Making paperless progress: how flexibility is driving digital transformation 

The term “paper pusher” got its name for a reason. Traditional offices use a lot of paper (and other office supplies). Combine this fact with the constant use of office equipment and facilities, it all adds up – leading to higher consumption of natural resources.

Greater flexibility at work is accelerating digital transformation in the workplace. More organisations are embracing digital tools and cloud-based platforms for communication and documentation. 

And some like Amal’s company, a leading car manufacturer, is ditching physical training materials with virtual reality training. Instead of travelling long distances to corporate headquarters, he can receive training from anywhere (and anytime). Fuelled by flexible working, this growing digital revolution significantly reduces paper-based processes and drives resource efficiency.

Redefining urban landscapes with flexibility in mind 

Tall office buildings filled with hundreds of employees may one day sound like an urban legend. As we already know, traditional work structures tend to pack many jobs into big cities. Creating a greater need for office spaces in city centres and leading to the infamous urban sprawl.

The great shift toward working remotely or in co-working spaces is widening the distribution of tasks. It’s also creating less need for centralised office spaces. This flexible working shift is contributing to more sustainable urban planning. 

Take Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which is incorporating the needs of flexible working into future real estate development. It will apply the “vertical zoning” concept, where different floors can accommodate business activities, co-working spaces and private residences. Projects like these can create a more balanced, healthier and environmentally sustainable urban development.

The path forward

Our journey through the many benefits of flexibility working is just the beginning. It’s clear that embracing the untapped potential of flexible working arrangements can have a powerful impact. Changing how we experience work, engage in our communities and contribute to a more sustainable future. As working professionals, you have a significant role in shaping this positive landscape. How will you leverage flexible working to drive change in your organisation and wider society?

British Council has been supporting organisations worldwide to identify and develop skills to ensure your talent is equipped for success now and in future. Partner with us to upskill your workforce in the crucial skills for flexible working success in 2023 and beyond.