Embracing A Flexible Work Model That Keeps Everybody Happy

By Paul Flaharty, executive director of the marketing and creative practice at global talent solutions firm Robert Half, which connects professionals with companies hiring in marketing, creative, digital, advertising and public relations. His primary responsibility is to develop and oversee the growth strategy for the company’s marketing and creative contract talent solutions teams across the United States. More about Paul below.


In the early days of the pandemic, many organizations swapped one set of rigid work arrangements (come into the office five days a week) for another (go home and stay home). Managers didn’t have to worry about favoring one employee’s scheduling preferences over another.

Today, managers and employees have more options that create the potential for new and productive work arrangements — but also for friction. In a Robert Half survey, four in 10 (41%) marketing and creative professionals said they crave more flexibility in where they work each day. On the other hand, 41% of managers would like to see the team in the office every day, 29% mixing home and office (hybrid) and 30% working remotely full time.

Managers looking at data like this may assume they can’t keep everyone happy. But some teams that have embraced a flexible work model have very nearly achieved just that. Here’s how you can emulate them.

1. Make The Positive Case For Flexibility

The negative case for flexibility — if we don’t give our employees more autonomy, they will vote with their feet — may be true, but it’s hardly designed to inspire your workforce or client base. Instead, take every opportunity to emphasize that flexibility is good for the business and that if you allow employees some self-determination, they will reward you with improved productivity and loyalty. Use employee feedback and data (productive hours lost to daily commutes, for example) to win over skeptics on your leadership team and broadcast your commitment to innovative work routines on your website and social media channels.

2. Determine Your Room For Maneuver

Client and business needs come first. So before offering team members more flexibility, establish how many people you need in the office each day to meet those needs. The worst thing you can do is promise your workers more autonomy and then renege on those commitments when you find yourself shorthanded.

3. Clarify Definitions And Expectations

Flexibility means different things to different people, from clocking in at 10 a.m. to having complete control over when and where they work. Some may feel that a hybrid arrangement means alternating between home and office whenever they please, for example, whereas you understand it to mean working three days on site and two days at home. Make sure there is no ambiguity around the arrangement agreed to.

4. Don’t Favor One Environment Over Another

If you start out from the premise that working from home is a privilege and working in the office a responsibility, you risk fostering an “us vs. them” culture that can quickly become toxic. Discourage any suggestion that telecommuting is a perk — it’s simply another way for creative people to operate with the highest productivity. At the same time, try to reimagine your office as a space people are excited to visit. Ideas include taking out some cubicles and creating a chillout zone where remote workers can drop in to catch up with their office-based colleagues.

5. Stay Alert For Proximity Bias

Proximity bias, or unconsciously favoring employees you’re in close contact with, is a particular risk in the age of hybrid and remote working. It’s all too easy to give more attention to someone who is working hard, making sales and wooing clients right in front of your eyes — and to offer them raises, promotions and plum assignments as a result.

The solution? Measure performance rather than observing it. Tell your team that metrics like time-at-desk are less important to you than productive design work and client satisfaction ratings. And if you yourself work some days from home, use that time to complete performance assessments and project assignments to avoid being swayed by recent personal interactions.

6. Get Creative About Collaboration

During the height of the pandemic, chat rooms, cloud-based docs, digital whiteboards and other collaboration tools helped keep work discussions alive. Now, as some workers return to the office, there’s a danger these brainstorming sessions may become fragmented or exclusionary, with remote workers left out of the loop.

One way to avoid this is to continue some of the collaboration methods that worked for you during the pandemic. After all, if most of your client pitches are virtual, it makes sense to continue rehearsing them virtually. Another idea is to arrange team meetings on the days when fewest people are in the office, so that remote workers aren’t in the minority.

7. Hold Inclusive Team Building Sessions 

Workers on hybrid teams can become isolated (either at home or in the office) or even feel like they don’t belong. Regular team-building activities can prevent this. Offer your crew some non-business-related challenges that both office and remote workers can collaborate on — building a Wordle competitor, for example. And if you do hold occasional all-hands meetings in the office, reserve some time for coffee and chit-chat. It could be the only opportunity remote workers get to get to know colleagues they would otherwise never meet in person.

Almost nine in 10 (85%) of marketing and creative managers in the survey mentioned earlier are concerned about their employees leaving for greener pastures. Talented employees will always have options, of course, but if your goal to is make as many as possible happy with their situation, they may decide their best option is you.


Robert Half is proud to return as a sponsor of the GDUSA Inhouse Design Awards to help showcase and celebrate the inspirational work of inhouse graphic designers and creative professionals. Submit an entry by June 10 for the opportunity to showcase your work or recognize the designs of an inhouse creative team.



More On Paul Flaharty

As noted above, Paul Flaharty is executive director of the marketing and creative practice at global talent solutions firm Robert Half.  Paul began his career with Robert Half in New York City in 2005. After seven years of building successful operations in the tri-state area, he relocated to Los Angeles. Paul has held several leadership positions, including division director, regional vice president and district director. He most recently oversaw operations throughout Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area for the company’s technology and marketing and creative practices. Paul is a spokesperson for Robert Half and frequently quoted expert on various hiring trends and workplace topics. A graduate of Cornell University, Paul is now based in Los Angeles and is proud to be raising two incredible children.