The Importance Of Being Flexible, According To 12 Successful Small Business Founders

Flexibility is not an opinion in the modern workplace. It is a necessity.

Whether it be in relation to taking leave, staff responsibilities or workplace locations, flexibility gives businesses opportunities to attract and retain talent, and move quickly in a competitive world.

We spoke to 12 small business founders who all agreed that flexibility give employees more freedom and accountability, which in turn increases productivity and efficiency.

Here’s what they had to say.

Flexibility maximises the talent pool from which you can draw.

Alec Lynch, Co-Founder and CEO of DesignCrowd.com

Flexibility is critical in a start-up or a small business. A startup needs to be agile in its strategy, its product, its marketing but also when it comes to staff. If your business or startup is willing to be flexible with staff, it will help maximise the talent pool from which you can draw.

Flexibility in the workplace has to be a give and take scenario.

Alexandra Tselios, Founder of online opinions site, The Big Smoke

I am a huge believer in flexibility and allowing your work to permeate into your everyday life, so that all facets can complement one another better. People simply do not thrive in rigid and inflexible conditions.

Flexibility in the workplace has to be a give and take scenario between both parties, with clear communication, but most importantly, clear boundaries and expectations.

Flexibility may be around personal circumstances, outside activities or even education; but regardless, if there is no clarity surrounding how it will impact the business or the employee, then resentment can start to breed. In this case, flexibility, when not handled well by management risks becoming a double-edged sword.

Flexibility is the new norm.

Matt Bullock, Founder and CEO, eWAY

Some believe that 'real' companies have a strategic plans which they follow, however I believe a flexible entrepreneur who can switch gears has a better chance of success. This includes many aspects such as responding to customers, to the market conditions and to competitive influences. In fact, being fast in failing and fast in changing strategy is one of the biggest advantages we have over larger competitors. Flexibility is the new norm. The idea of continuous improvement exists daily in eWAY. We listen to customers, partners and staff to make the changes, roll them out, listen again and repeat. Flexibility in all matters is important in small businesses. This includes a roll up your sleeves and muck in attitude from everyone, CEO to trainee.

As a SaaS business opportunities can be won or lost in a matter of minutes. Having employees who can access their work from anywhere, at any time means we can be more responsive. This is the DNA we expect in staff. This approach includes people. I believe it is a disservice to all parties to continue an employment arrangement when the person is not happy or achieving in their role. This includes not just new hires. It extends to those we have had in the company for a long time. Sometimes employee retention and longevity holds back a company. Flexibility means mixing people up in roles where their heads don’t get stuck in one way street and they can use their eyes in a fresh situation. If not help them find a place somewhere else that they can be happy.

It's important to know the difference between flexibility and distraction.

Greg Taylor, Co-Founder and CEO of clipp.co

It’s very difficult in a startup to keep to your business plan. For example, I sat at my desk this morning to find an email that required immediate attention and will now occupy at least 90% of my day.

Flexibility can come in many different forms, but the most important part to understand and nurture as part of a startup is the ability to show flexibility in both long and short term strategy, with the ability to execute and follow through on your existing strategy.

It is VERY easy to get distracted in a startup. You receive an email from a potentially enormous client who loves your idea and wants to meet and discuss something that is not your core product, but if it comes off, it could change your business and really put you on the map.

Sometimes it’s the things you DON’T do that are more important than the things you DO.

Flexibility and balance equals more efficient, productive staff.

Gen George, Founder and CEO, OneShift

Flexibility is becoming an increasingly important factor in the workforce, for both employees as well as employers. We, as a nation, are beginning to understand the effects that long hours and no breaks are having on our staff and how that is affecting their work.

It should come as no surprise that those who work longer hours become less productive, less creative and therefore less meaningful to your company. I’ve even heard of employers forcing their staff to take their annual leave each year in an effort to stress the importance of having well-rested staff. It not only benefits the worker who then feels more inclined to take holidays yet it is also advantageous to the company, having staff who are more efficient and productive in their work.

Flexibility has championed independence.

Adam Dong, Co-Founder and CTO of Oneflare.com.au

I lead a team of white collar workers who don’t actually have to wear a white collar to work every day. I’ve always believed in the value of having a comfortable and streamlined approach and when it comes to my team, I can guarantee that flexibility has championed independence. We are task based rather than hours based and that allows our team to take initiative and control over their workload. Flexibility isn’t about being lazy but it’s about recognising the ability of your employees to be efficient and resourceful with their tasks and time. I make it my goal to create a fluid and accommodating environment so my team can balance their social commitments, invest in their passions and pursue their career.

As an employer you must be flexible in order to support your employees.

Sharon Zeev Poole, Director and Founder, Agent99 PR

It’s important to be flexible as an employer. Holidays, appointments, or personal issues that need to be dealt with, never come at a good time, but we’re all human and it’s not just about work. It’s about being happy as a person and being productive at work happens best when people feel that they have their own lives in order. As an employer, it’s not just an option, it’s a necessity for me to be flexible in order to facilitate that. When someone goes on leave, I often clear my plate and take on their responsibilities so that everyone can feel that they can take a holiday and relax, or we share the load across the team. Flexibility means that people feel more in control of their lives and I think that’s vital to their health and in turn the quality of the work they output.

With flexibility comes creativity.

Stuart Marburg, CEO, MessageMedia

Flexibility in the workplace is very important – it’s crucial in allowing creativity to become a part of everyday; encouraging innovation and improving efficiencies. Business opportunities can be taken hold of quickly and employees feel more valued and, in turn, are more accountable – productivity increases as a result. The focus is put on the quality of work, rather than the hours of work, which also allows retention of a superstar workforce. It is, however, a two-way street. The right people need to be hired from the start, some will try take advantage and others need rigid structure. It’s a balancing act finely tuned for the employees you chose to have with you, one you will ultimately be rewarded for.

People have different triggers. Different needs.

Andre Eikmeier, Co-CEO and cofounder, Vinomofo

We're all human. The days of inflexible, policy-driven HR procedures and regulations are thankfully not cutting it anymore. Good talent demands and deserves to be treated better. You have to care about your people. You can't expect to get the best out of someone if you're homogenising the way you treat everyone. People have different triggers. Different needs. You can't simply dismiss that. Well, you can, but you'll lose good people, and you won't bring out the best in people. Hire on character and strengths - they're harder to learn than skills.

Deferring important decision until the last responsible moment.

Andy Sheats, CEO and founder, health.com.au

We built health.com.au on a foundation of Agile -- which is fundamentally a structured way to remain flexible. I've heard it called 'deferring important decision until the last responsible moment'. The point is to avoid locking yourself into a path until you have had the opportunity to show customers something, get their thoughts, learn more and plan a better way forward. It's stupid to lock yourself into a well thought out plan that is fundamentally flawed because it achieves the wrong objective, or in an ineffective way.

Flexibility encourages innovation.

Dean Ramler, CEO and cofounder, Milan Direct

It is essential to be flexible in the workplace, to ensure your company is nimble and can respond to market changes. At Milan Direct we pride ourselves on running a meritocracy, whereby we reward based on value add and not tenure. As such we encourage all team members to put their hand up for areas they believe they are strongest at. We often promote and move team members around if they can prove by their actions that they are the very best in the business at a certain role. This flexibility encourages innovation. For instance, one of our team members came in for a customer service role, but showed strength in operations and so we moved her into the ops team where she been extremely valuable in this key area. This flexibility keeps the team roaring ahead.

Flexibility is essential to retain staff and keep people happy.

Matthew Dyer, Founder, EatNow.com.au

Flexibility is essential to retain staff and keep people happy. It makes business sense too. Not allowing staff to work at home will result in them taking sick days to have furniture delivered or to go to an appointment in another direction to the office. Both parties win with flexibility. I have one staff member with a young baby where it takes an hour to get to work in order to arrive at 9am and 20 minutes to arrive at 10am. It's a no brainer to me that he starts at 10am. He gets extra time to spend with his baby and still does the same number of hours.

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