Nearly half of employees who are not knowledge workers—i.e., office clerks, production and logistics staff, call center attendants, etc.—want their organizations to provide them with greater control over when, where and how much they work, according to Gartner, Inc. Yet most of these workers don’t have this flexibility. Gartner’s 2021 EVP Employee Survey found that less than one-third of non-knowledge workers have flexibility in any area of their work. Meanwhile, its 2021 Hybrid Workforce Panel Survey revealed that 75 percent of knowledge workers have increased expectations for work flexibility in the future.

“Even employees in roles that have not traditionally been thought of as flexible, such as retail employees, on-site essential personnel or IT field technicians, are seeking more flexibility and ownership over their work,” says Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice.

Gartner, a research and advisory firm, notes that in today’s volatile labor market, organizations can better attract and retain talent by providing more choices, embracing radical flexibility and adjusting their understanding of flexible work to align with employee priorities. It recommends that human resources leaders can implement certain strategies to expand the flexibility they offer to employees who are operating outside the traditional office setting.

Among these is the identification of norms that help provide flexibility. Organizations must first establish norms around what specifically empowers their employees to complete their work. This approach allows business units, teams and individual employees to be accountable for their work—allowing more freedom for individuals to choose the work style and preferences that align with their needs and those of their team. HR leaders can facilitate manager/employee conversations by equipping managers to determine the type of work styles that meet business objectives and how these can be adjusted to support more flexibility.

Gartner also advises businesses to determine activities within roles that can be flexible. It suggests HR leaders can help managers understand their employees’ work by prompting them to map out the activities that make up an employee’s job. Rather than classifying jobs themselves as remote or on-site, breaking down each job into a list of its associated activities, and analyzing which can be performed in any location, enables greater flexibility for all employees.

“There are often hidden opportunities for flexibility in all roles, even those commonly considered ineligible,” says Cambon. “For example, while the role of IT and tech support often has an inflexible on-call component, some tasks like answering queries can be done successfully under a more flexible arrangement. Identifying these hidden pockets of flexibility will go a long way in providing the sense of autonomy that employees crave.”

Organizations can also source best practices from managers and cross-functional teams. Traditionally, Gartner points out, most organizations lean on HR leaders to identify solutions to improve flexible work environments. However, HR leaders and their teams often lack firsthand experience managing non-knowledge workers. HR leaders should collaborate with managers throughout the organization who manage various employee segments and may already be implementing best practices for providing flexibility in their teams. Additionally, HR leaders can assemble a cross-functional team to gain further understanding of how to extend flexibility for all employees. This approach allows HR to utilize the expertise and understanding of different business leaders and more importantly, empowers organizational collaboration.

“When organizations deliver radical flexibility, the percentage of employees who are defined as high performers increases by 40 percent,” says Emily Strother, senior principal in the Gartner HR practice. “Leading organizations can drive performance by providing flexibility on all aspect of their work, and recognizing their workforce comprises of people, not just employees.”