Since I entered the workforce, I have always wanted to create my own schedule. I struggled to follow strict rules and a rigid 9-to-5 schedule. I started corporate life at a sports club, where I was doing marketing, and then switched to a company where I was expected to stay at work until the CEO left, even if I had finished my work for the day. I always thought, What a waste of time. I could be playing tennis now, or I could be doing something else I enjoy in life.


When I started working at Mercer, the schedule I had always wanted was there waiting for me. We developed the “modern working model” with the PWN Istanbul team. We spent months evaluating what the working model should be, and we ran surveys before and after to check on colleagues’ performance. We had finally found a model that worked, and I was so proud. Because of this model, we were ready when the pandemic hit. It was an easy transition since all of us were used to remote working. We never anticipated this challenge, but it allowed us to level up. The pandemic introduced us to a new concept called permanent flexibility, and the world quickly evolved into the New Shape of Work. Personally, this was challenging to accept. I had always wanted this flexibility, but did I want it to be ushered in by a global pandemic?


I do not doubt that remote work brings productivity. According to Mercer’s global COVID-19 survey, 90% of participating organizations said productivity has remained the same or even increased during the remote working period. We do need to bear in mind, though, that COVID-19 has different implications for a diverse workforce. Women, for example, are facing more challenges with caregiving and household responsibilities. A recent study by McKinsey indicates that fathers working from home, by contrast, have had a relatively positive experience. But whether working moms’ experience has been a little or a lot worse than that of working dads depends on schedule flexibility.


According to Mercer’s When Women Thrive 2020 Study, women have ended up taking on more responsibility as their health and childcare needs have increased — all while earning less. Suggestions from HR experts about what this new world of flexible working should look like abound: I have even read articles that say that there are benefits to including kids in Zoom calls, and some of my friends have experienced them. Before the pandemic, I could never imagine an article like this coming out. In my mind, Zoom calls had to happen in a private space, with no distractions or outside interaction.


Feeling the struggle myself as an employee, I wonder how companies should tackle this “permanent flexibility” concept. How can they ensure the best employee experience? What are the limits to flexible working? Are there boundaries we need to set? How do companies ensure productivity and meet the needs of a diverse workforce? What inclusive policies should be in place?


I turned to my colleague Madison, who’s always worked from home, and we have gathered our suggestions for a world of permanent flexibility. These all tie into workforce training (by helping employees improve their mindset and skillset) while also creating a ripple effect through the company culture. Of course, some businesses have fully returned to offices and worksites. But we genuinely believe — no matter what the driving force may be (whether it’s office costs, a pandemic resurgence, the pressures different generations are experiencing, reduced working hours or caregiving demands) — companies should get ready for a world where flexibility is here to stay. With the pandemic, we were all caught off guard. But this unpreparedness can turn into an opportunity for growth.


We have identified a few ways that can help you create a productive flexible working environment. Mercer is also assisting companies in achieving this on a broader scale with our flexible working offering.


Here are our suggestions for staying productive in a world of permanent flexibility:

  1. Choose self-discipline and motivation every day. Motivation is an internal state of mind, and you can choose it at any moment. Instead of “waiting” for motivation to come, what if you simply decided you would step into that mindset now?
  2. Set clear boundaries between your work and personal life. Do you work while you are eating lunch? Do you plan on logging off at a particular time, but then find yourself answering emails at night? Do you end up working on your days off? There is no “right” or “wrong” way to create boundaries — there is only the way that feels good for you. So give yourself permission to experiment with new boundaries that support you to show up as your best self in your work and personal life.
  3. Understand the difference between “productive” and “busy.” Are you working for work’s sake, or are you focused on tasks that will move the needle? Challenge yourself to let go of the tasks that aren’t moving you forward to work smarter, not harder. A great way to do this is to track everything you spend your time doing for a week and then reflect at the end of the week. You will be amazed by how much time you can create when you become more intentional about what you choose to spend your time on.
  4. Permit yourself to take breaks. Get outside, take a lunch break or go for a walk.
  5. Shift your mindset around time. Stop telling yourself there is never enough time. Have you noticed that just makes you feel overwhelmed and stuck? And when you feel overwhelmed and stuck, it’s tough to be productive, right? Instead, try telling yourself, “I have more than enough time to get everything done,” and notice how that immediately shifts you out of overwhelm and into motivation and focus.

You can find additional tips for staying productive while working from home here.

Işil Çayirli Ketenci
by Işil Çayirli Ketenci

Global Marketing Leader- Career Business at Mercer