By Evelyn Lee, FAIA
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion from AIA Houston's WIA Equity Series Re|Define.
The panel featured mid-career women in practice and other areas, talking about how they defined success and, in large part, how to break down the barriers that have made it so difficult for us to pave a better way forward for women in practice.
What was particularly interesting is that we all defined our success under a common theme: flexibility within the workplace.
Or, more specifically, success was defined as the ability to create our own schedule and focus on what we are most passionate about within the firm, while balancing other aspects of our life – family, friends, community, or other personal pursuits.
The question I pondered on the flight home was, why is this our definition of success? And how much further would I be in my own career if I had that kind of support and flexibility all along?
While some firms believe they have figured out their return-to-office strategy, the truth is that most companies, firms included, have not done the work to envision how we might truly change the way we work to enable their people – and, in turn, their business – to be more successful.
Success in the employee experience should include more flexibility for everyone, including those entering the workforce. And while location flexibility is essential, schedule flexibility is even more critical. In Future Forum's last pulse survey of over 10,000 global knowledge workers, 81% said they wanted location flexibility, but 93% said they wanted schedule flexibility.1
That means after compensation, flexibility is the most important factor for employees. And while this is important for everyone, it becomes especially important for women in the workforce, who still carry most care responsibilities for their household outside of work.
For women, flexible work helps retain their trajectory in the workforce, reduces burnout, supports having and growing a family, and allows time for caregiving responsibilities.
What's more, a survey of females with flexible work arrangements (combining in-office and remote work) reports that 88% of them believe that flexibility is an equalizer within the workplace, and two-thirds believe flexibility has had a positive impact on their career growth.2 Examples cited include greater efficiency and productivity, the ability to learn more about other roles at their company, time to partake in additional career training, and increased visibility with senior leadership during time in the office.
The positives for remote work often also extend to BIPOC employees and those from the LGBTQIA+ community, where workplace flexibility offers a welcome break from office microaggressions.
So, what steps can you take to support flexible work for your employees?
- Ensure you have organizational support from the top and throughout all leadership and managers.
- Create space for personal autonomy, allowing individuals to make decisions around their schedule that are right for them but also benefit the team.
- Provide manager enablement to help managers learn how to support flexible work best and create a culture of trust.3
- Ensure that employees are using all their PTO; go as far as to encourage them to make regular use of their time off, not just because it's accumulating, but because it's good for their overall well-being.
- Set up systems to ensure employees are not unnecessarily over-tasked.
- Embed flexible work into the culture and build teams that can be agile to support one another.
When considering the future of work within your firm, consider how to increase your employees' schedule flexibility. And keep in mind that requiring an in-person presence on certain days of the week regularly deters schedule flexibility. The long-term benefits of fully flexible policies will allow all staff members to achieve more at work, in their careers and in the critical realm of work-life balance.
Evelyn Lee, FAIA, is the first-ever Global Head of Workplace Strategy and Innovation at Slack Technologies, Founder of the Practice of Architecture, and Co-Host of the Podcast, Practice Disrupted. Lee integrates her business and architecture background with a qualitative and quantitative focus to build better experiences for the organization's employees, clients, and guests.
She is widely published, wrote a monthly column for Contract magazine for over three years, frequently contributed to Architect Magazine, and is working with Architizer to develop recurring content on the business of architecture. Evelyn has received numerous industry awards, including the 2016 40 Under 40 award for Building Design + Construction and the 2014 AIA National Young Architects Award. She recently served as the first-ever female Treasurer to the AIA National Board in 2020-2021 and was recently elected to serve as the 101st President of AIA National in 2025.
(Return to the cover of the November 2023 PM Digest)