How to Be Flexible in the Workplace

Responding to Change Quickly and Positively

When you’re flexible, you’re versatile, resilient and responsive to change.

Rapid technological advances, along with fast-paced changes in global markets and the political landscape, mean that today’s workplaces are often unpredictable.


Your organization has probably undergone major change of one kind or another recently – most have. Perhaps, as a result, you’ve found yourself taking on new responsibilities, or working with a variety of different teams or across different functions.


Maybe your industry is in a state of upheaval, with no two days the same, or you’ve had to adapt to working under a succession of different managers. All of this means that it’s more important than ever that you are flexible and responsive to sudden change.


In this article, we explain what it means to be flexible, how it can benefit you, and how you can achieve it.


What Is Flexibility?

Flexibility is the capacity to adjust to short-term change  quickly and calmly, so that you can deal with unexpected problems or tasks effectively. Here are a few examples of how you might demonstrate it:


  • Offer to help out another team member if you notice that he or she is overloaded.
  • Volunteer to cover a colleague’s work while he is on leave.
  • Consider allowing people to work from home to help them achieve a better work/life balance.
  • When you come across a problem, offer up a variety of solutions that might fix it.


Why Be Flexible?

Most of us have experienced change in the workplace at some point. In fact, according to 2014 research from the Manpower Group, 74 percent of UK businesses have undergone a restructure in the past five years.


We can’t always predict when changes like these are going to happen. That’s why flexibility is so important. When you’re flexible, you’re versatile, resilient and responsive to change. You can adapt to unexpected demands in the workplace – sudden surges in work, urgent problems, or an unpredictable event , such as a cyber security breach or financial crash, for instance.


Flexible people are highly prized by managers and businesses. They help to stabilize situations when crisis strikes. They keep objectives achievable and within reach, and they often “go the extra mile ” to support colleagues who are in need of advice or help.


How to Be More Flexible

Flexibility involves having an open, team-centered attitude, and retaining a strong sense of identity and purpose. Here are seven ways that you can achieve this:


1. Focus on Your Core Values

Having key attributes that don’t shift can keep you grounded during periods of change. Using your core values  and your organization’s culture  as anchor points will help you to decide what you can and can’t agree to when you receive an unexpected request.


Taking on responsibility for a project that will get your team nearer to meeting its annual target is one thing; but, if this involves doing something that is legally or ethically dubious, you should steer clear.


2. Be Open-Minded

You’ll likely find it easier to understand and manage a situation if you look at it from different perspectives . For example, if you’re looking to launch a new product, you might first like to analyze it from different viewpoints.


How will it fit into the marketplace, for instance? What will the impact be on your production process, and your sales and marketing teams? How do you think your customers will react to it?


Make it a priority to listen to and understand the views of the other people involved. If your manager asks you to help out on an urgent project, for example, consider how it will benefit the team or your career, rather than simply thinking, “Oh no, not more work!”


3. Develop Your Skill Set

If you don’t make an effort to learn new skills, you’ll likely find that when an unexpected event does occur, you won’t be equipped to deal with it.


Tackle this by staying curious about what’s going on around you. Keep up-to-date with new industry trends  by reading up on the latest innovations and research, and broaden your knowledge by cross-skilling .


4. Be Optimistic

It can be difficult to stay positive when you know a large, urgent project is on the horizon. But, looking on the bright side  and focusing on the positives will help you to stay resilient  and focused. A break or change in your routine could be an opportunity to learn new skills, or to work with different colleagues, new clients or new suppliers.


5. Stay Calm

When expectations shift suddenly, it can be disconcerting and you might find that you start to feel anxious. Counter the effects of stress (such as loss of focus and impaired decision making) by taking steps to restore calm . You can explore tips and techniques for doing this in our article, Managing Stress .


6. Plan Ahead

Even if you can’t predict the future, you can still plan for the unexpected.


Anticipating the next new development, measuring risks  and preparing for them are key skills. For example, if you are pitching a product or service to a potential client, it’s a good idea to think about the questions that she might ask, and to prepare your answers ahead of time.


7. Have a Strong Support Network

Having a strong and stable team around you is essential in times of flux. It means that, no matter the difficulties you are facing, you have people who you can rely on to support you.


Strengthen the relationships that you have with your co-workers by building trust . You could start by, for example, offering to take on additional tasks when a colleague is busy, or by helping him with a system or process that he is finding difficult to use.


Not only will this boost collaboration and positivity across your team, but it will likely encourage your colleagues to return the favor when you are the one in need of help.



Don’t allow a commitment to flexible working to become an opportunity for others to take advantage of you. Make your boundaries clear and assert your right not to become a “dumpster” for all the jobs that nobody else wants.





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