How to be more flexible at work

28 April 2022

Flexibility at work is an important soft skill. Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about taking up yoga, although that may be beneficial too. 

Flexibility in the workplace is the ability and eagerness to embrace new tasks without feeling overwhelmed. Resilience and flexibility is so important in the modern workplace that the World Economic Forum has listed it as one of the top 10 skills that employees will require for the future of work. 


As technology improves it is causing a sea change in the kind of work people are required for. While automation might be able to complete tasks faster and more accurately than humans, it is more difficult for machines to learn. So there is a growing need for employees to use their soft skills including flexibility to help their organisation maintain its competitive edge. 

It is highly likely you have already experienced some form of change in your career to date. Research from the UK showed 74% of employees have undergone some form of restructure. Being able to, not just tolerate but thrive in a changing working environment will make you a valued employee.  You are open to learning new things, taking on new challenges and adjusting to suit an evolving work environment. 

The good news on flexibility at work is it is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. If you feel flexibility is something you would like to focus on there are a number of steps you can take:

1. Know your core values.

Core values are the fundamental beliefs or ideals that inform how you conduct your life. They are elements that do not shift and can keep you grounded during periods of change in the workplace. Your core values can be used as anchor points when you receive requests that require flexibility. 

2. Take an open-minded approach.

Being open minded at work involves looking at any situation from a variety of perspectives. We can do this to a certain extent ourselves but the most successful approach includes listening to the opinions of others. Someone who is truly open minded will take on the ideas of others and consider that you may be wrong or need to change your perspective. 

3. Develop your skills.

The more skills you have the less threatening changes to your role or within your industry are likely to feel. Improve your flexibility by staying up to date with industry trends and innovations. 

4. Train your brain to be more optimistic.

You may believe that optimism is a trait we have or we don’t. To a certain degree science backs this up, there are brain markers that distinguish optimistic and pessimistic thinkers. That said, science also shows there are things you can do to become more optimistic if you struggle with negative thoughts:

  • When something good happens, dwell on it and give yourself credit for making it happen
  • Focus on your strengths and the other positive events they could lead to
  • Minimize negative events while still owning mistakes if they happen 

Training your brain in this way can help with flexibility at work as you view change more positively. 

5. Stay calm.

When a situation changes suddenly it can be stressful and you may begin to feel anxious. Teaching yourself methods of staying calm in difficult situations can help when it comes to facing change at work. Some easy tools for staying calm include: 

  • Taking a few minutes to focus on your breath
  • Going for a walk 
  • Taking a few minutes to focus on what you can see, hear and touch around you 

6. Forward thinking

Although you may not be able to predict exactly when you might require flexibility at work. Do your best to plan to some degree anticipating needs where you can. The upskilling mentioned earlier may help with this as does staying in contact with senior management about upcoming projects and the overarching company strategy. 

7. Have a strong support network

Building a reliable and supportive team is key to flexibility at work. Strengthen relationships with colleagues so you can all work together to get through the challenge of changes to your roles or how your work gets done. 

To encourage flexibility, many workplaces are reciprocating by enabling their workforce to work in a way and at a time that works best for them. 

The best example of this globally is the number of businesses embracing hybrid working post pandemic. This allows employees to combine the convenience of working from home with the requirement of working with colleagues in an office environment. 

There are several other ways your employer may facilitate getting work done in a way that is convenient including offering:

  • Flex time:
    Flexible start and finish times which is useful if you have caring responsibilities or are more productive at certain times of the day.
  • Reduced hours/Part-time:
    Working less time across a week.
  • Compressed work week:
    Working the same hours but in fewer days over a week. For example, working forty hours over four days instead of five. 

Flexibility is becoming an increasingly important soft skill. If it is something you are struggling with there are science based ways to improve your sense of happiness. Or your employer may offer other supports in the form of an employee or expat assistance programme if you are working overseas.