Why The Future of Work is Flexible

Posted in: JA Impact

With threats of a recession looming over 2023 many employers are upping their efforts to get workers back in the office to start the new year. Many employees, however, still want the flexibility of remote or hybrid work, laying the grounds for conflict at a time when multiple industries are feeling the strain of post-pandemic labor shortages.

Like many non-profit organizations, Junior Achievement of Arizona was forced to pivot hard and fast in 2019, overhauling the way we deliver our hands-on programs and resources focused on financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship to tens of thousands of students across the state. Our in-classroom and on-site programming went virtual, as did our 30+ teammates and thousands of volunteer mentors. As was the case for everyone, it was a tumultuous time, filled with plenty of anxiety and unknowns. However, it was also a time of great innovation and learning.

As we transitioned out of the pandemic it was clear early on that going back to the way things were “pre-COVID” was not in our best interest. Virtual programming expanded our reach well beyond the classroom and our staff members’ productivity was just as high, if not higher, than it always had been. We were also able to bring virtual programming to rural Arizona and markets we hadn’t been able to serve before. So, we spent 2022 combining the old and the new. Our staff members stayed in their flexible work environments, and we continued using virtual programming and resources to supplement the work happening on school campuses and in our facility once in-person opportunities resumed.

The results speak for themselves.

In 2022, Junior Achievement of Arizona had the most successful year in our 60+ year history. We served 108,000 primarily low-income students, our highest number yet. We raised $7 million in revenue, the most in a single year, being thinking outside the box and looking for new funding sources.  We’re viewed as a key strategic expert in the marketplace much more than ever before, and we have a 100% staff job satisfaction rate. Our team has not only remained productive, but in some cases has brought more energy and creativity into the workplace.

Every company is different, but maybe some of these learnings could help others. For example, we have a constant focus on communication and staying connected, and have to work at it every day. Some employees use MS Teams video chats in the same way as drop-in meetings; for the unscheduled quick questions, it’s easy to just hit the video button; for seeing a face and asking the question directly instead of sending an email.

Even when people worked in the office more regularly, we did not see them all of the time. And supervising is not really that different. You do not have to physically stand over someone to see if they are working or doing a good job. We are more concerned about the work quality and quantity than if the person is sitting in a chair.  And about 75% of our employees are non-exempt!
This type of success may not be the reality for every organization; however, we encourage employers to at least consider keeping some form of flexible work environment going forward.  Right now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that if every unemployed worker took an open job in their industry, there would still be millions of open jobs. Now is the time to not only promote innovation and creativity, but to also find new ways of attracting and retaining employees. In our experience, that innovation and creativity is married to the freedom of flexibility. The future of your work depends on it.

-Katherine Kemmeries Cecala, JA President