Of the many lessons the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, the need to embrace business flexibility feels like the most important one. Or so it seems. Everyone from CEOs to thought leaders to business gurus has said their piece about flexibility, with all of them agreeing on one thing: if a company is to survive the post-pandemic landscape, it needs to adopt a flexible approach to its operations.
That definitely sounds ominous. And that tone, repeated over and over and over throughout the last couple of years, can make anyone feel like some people are obsessed with business flexibility. Ultimately, you may feel like that ultimatum of sorts (“be flexible or die”) is an exaggeration, something you can ignore. Yet, the sheer insistence on the issue should have you wondering: is flexibility really that vital for your company?
The short answer is: “Heck, yeah!” Now let’s see why I’m saying this.
Uncertainty as a common business denominator
Businesspeople generally see the future as fairly predictable, especially in today’s data age. From that perspective, they leverage data to anticipate future scenarios and adapt their businesses to what they believe is coming. That’s the reasoning behind some of the most popular tools and approaches to data analytics.
Now, I’m not saying that using analytics for planning is wrong (it’s actually the opposite!). But what I’m saying is that the future is more uncertain than we think. The pandemic is a clear example of that. Even when some people and tools anticipated the possibility of such a crisis, the quick spread of Covid-19 caught virtually everyone by surprise. And most businesses suffered because of it.
I’m sure you’re all aware of the effects that disruption caused on companies. Many resorted to remote work to keep business somewhat as usual. Some did their best to adapt their offerings to a new reality marked by stay-at-home orders and quarantines. Others reinvented themselves entirely. Sadly, many closed their doors for good. What was the difference between all of them? Aside from specific conditions for each business, I could argue that more flexible companies fared better than those that rigidly stayed within their usual lanes of activity.
Why? Because a flexible approach can better deal with ever-changing scenarios. If a company is open (and prepared) to change how it operates based on external factors, it’ll obviously do better once it starts to reshape things. That flexibility (which, in this context, acts as a synonym for agility) is the best weapon in any company’s inventory to deal with uncertainty — especially now that we all recognize that uncertainty as a common business denominator.
Business flexibility, defined
Before moving forward with why I think your business needs to be flexible, I feel it’s best to define what we mean with that concept (which, to be honest, is far from new). So, what does “being flexible” mean? I don’t believe there’s a unique definition, as that flexibility will look different for each business. However, I think some common elements allow us to agree on a basic understanding of business flexibility:
“Business flexibility is the ability of a company to adapt to new situations or circumstances while remaining operative.”
The pandemic, again, provides us with the perfect example to understand this. For instance, a lot of restaurants flexibilized their business approach and embraced delivery and curbside pickup, even when that wasn’t in their plans. Many retailers developed online stores to keep selling their products, even when they hadn’t contemplated doing that. Organizations across diverse sectors, such as banking, education, marketing, healthcare, and the public sector, all quickly embraced remote work, even when they almost always preferred in-office work.
All of those are examples of business flexibility at work. That’s because they all show that companies ditched their original plans and approaches to embrace new ways of working that helped them move forward.
Those new ways often meant a few things:
- Adopting new technologies (such as cloud computing)
- Organizing their teams differently (through remote work)
- Seeing their company in a different light
Those three are pillars of business flexibility.
Now that we got that out of the way, it’s time to dive into why focusing on business agility is the right path for everyone, including you.
The benefits of business flexibility
You surely have figured out that you should embrace business flexibility by using an approach that will let you reinvent your business at every level necessary when circumstances change (mildly or significantly). In other words, you must be agile to keep doing business in a highly dynamic landscape. But that’s far from being the only benefit of using this approach. Some of the other advantages include:
If you strategize from a flexibility perspective, you’ll get an edge over your competitors. Why? Because that perspective will help you prepare in quiet times while giving everything you need to reimagine your business during disrupted times. If your corporate culture already has flexibility as a principal value, you’ll be better equipped to face disruptions than companies that have ignored agility.
Happier and more motivated team members
Business flexibility can help create a positive work environment where people feel happier and more motivated. How? Flexibility often translates to more dynamic work arrangements (especially in remote and hybrid work), so team members aren’t tied to strict business hours, rigid work processes, or dress codes. People feel more comfortable and can work to their full potential without all of those things.
As Oxford researchers have found, happy workers are 13% more productive. So, it should be your top priority to turn your company into a happy place for your team members. This can mean a lot of different things, but business flexibility encompasses many of them. Through it, you can provide your team with flexible work hours, adaptable processes, and even remote work, all of which are things that people desire and value.
Productivity isn’t the only thing that will benefit from happy team members. You’ll also see how your turnover rates fall dramatically, as people who are comfortable with their jobs don’t tend to go out of their way to look for other positions. Indeed, flexibility isn’t a silver bullet for employee turnover, but it can help you retain your collaborators — especially the most skilled and experienced ones.
Decreased carbon footprints
A somewhat unexpected benefit of becoming more flexible is how it can help you reduce your environmental footprint. I know that it sounds odd, but there are a couple of things to support that. First, remote work reduces the need for cars and public transportation for commuting, reducing the number of vehicles on the road and thus diminishing carbon emissions. But there’s also the amount of office supplies you’ll be able to cut back (especially the need for paper due to the increased use of tech).
Don’t get obsessed with business flexibility: just embrace it
As you can see, many reasons explain why so many people are seemingly obsessed with business flexibility. The ability to better fare unforeseen crises, the competitive edge over competitors that stay rigid, the multiple advantages for team members, and even the environmental factor, all exemplify why so many companies are investing more and more in becoming agile.
The pandemic has dramatically scaled the interest of business leaders in becoming flexible. Many of them started their quest for agility when the disruptions stemming from Covid-19 were strangling them. Today, those companies keep investing in different areas (infrastructure, operations, human resources) to become even more flexible. The goal is clear: to be better prepared when the next big disruption comes their way.
And that big disruption is coming! So, the takeaway isn’t that you should obsess with business agility yourself. Instead, embrace its principles and overall mindset. Doing that will help you better position yourself in today’s market while increasing your resilience in the process. It won’t be an easy process, though. Becoming flexible implies letting go of your traditional work methods, investing in new technologies, and even changing your corporate culture.
That sounds like a lot of work—and it certainly is. But obsessing over it won’t take you anywhere. Instead, listen to the thousands and thousands of experts telling everyone within earshot to start becoming flexible. I don’t know if that’s the pandemic’s most crucial lesson to businesses, but it surely feels like one of the most important lessons. Don’t obsess over it but don’t ignore it either.