Flexibility at Work: It’s Time to Get On Board

The days of 9-to-5 in-office facetime are becoming a distant memory as more and more companies adapt their definitions of workplace flexibility to meet the wants and needs of their most prized employees.

Flexibility and work/life balance are some of the highest rated benefits by employees today. OpenView recently conducted a survey of 360+ full-time workers in the technology industry and a whopping 70% of respondents said having flexibility at work is “critical.” What was once considered a rare luxury is now being viewed as a core offering for companies that are competing for top talent. But despite its rising popularity, there is still quite a bit of gray area when it comes to flexible work policies.

What is flexible working? Why is it the way of the future? How do I make it work for my company? Read on to find out.

OpenView’s survey results

The proven benefits of flexible work policies are numerous, and with 51% of employees wishing their company offered more flexibility, it’s in a company’s best interest to listen. Flexible benefits cost an employer nothing to offer, yet yield hugely positive outcomes. Employees with flexibility in their jobs are more likely to stay put. According to a 2017 Owl Labs “State of Remote Work” report, companies that support remote or flexible work have 25% lower employee turnover than companies that don’t.

Furthermore, fully distributed companies take 33% less time to hire a new employee than companies that hire in specific locations. Additionally, flexible benefits can make a company more attractive to job-seekers with different life situations (i.e. parents with young children), which means a bigger talent pool to hire from. A 2016 survey by FlexJobs found that working parents ranked workplace flexibility ahead of salary. OpenView found that a staggering 84% of working parents said work flexibility is the most important factor in a job. But above all else, giving your employees flexibility in their work schedules is one of the best ways to acknowledge that their well-being is important. It creates a culture of accountability, maturity and balance, which can only mean positive results for the business.

Implications of a non-flexible work environment

While many believe that the benefits of flexible working speak for themselves, the potential implications of not offering such benefits are palpable. Flex benefits are fast becoming a must-have for employees and job-seekers today. Companies who refuse to offer such flexibility could find themselves in a bind. Not to mention they’re already in the minority – according to Zenefits’ 2018 Flexible Work Report, 67% of respondents claimed their employers currently offer some form of flexible work arrangement.

It’s a known fact that hiring is getting more difficult by the year. Upwork’s Future Workforce Report states that 39% of surveyed managers agree that hiring is getting harder (3x higher than last year’s findings). Out of those that agreed with this sentiment, 53% cited local access to skills as the biggest hiring challenge (AKA, they can’t find the talent they need in the location they’re seeking it). And of the entire 1,000 managers surveyed, they predicted that ~38% of their full-time employees will work predominantly from home or remotely.

By not offering remote or WFH flexibility, a company could shut itself off from talent located outside of the desired region. However, by denying any type of work flexibility, a company could also risk losing currently employed talent – 36% of workers claim they are likely to leave their current job due specifically to lack of flexible work benefits.

What policies are right for your organization?

Once you’ve come around to the pros of flexible benefits, the first step is to evaluate the right policies for your organization and understand the different forms and arrangements that currently exist. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, anything outside the typical 40-hour, 9-to-5 work week is flexible. Some possible/common flex arrangements include:

      • Flexible hours: Coming in at 6:00 am and leaving at 2:00 pm
      • Partial work-from-home (WFH): Working from home 2-3 days a week or at one’s discretion
      • Remote or telecommuting: Working primarily from one’s home or remote office
      • Compressed weeks/hours: Working longer hours on certain days to build up flexibility on others

Although these are some of the most common arrangements, the variations are extensive and it’s important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to choosing which arrangements will work best for your particular organization.

It’s also common to offer varying flex benefits to employees based on their particular roles within the company. For example, a tech support team that depends on certain technologies and in-office resources to do their jobs probably likely isn’t the best candidate for a partial WFH policy, but could be a great match for flexible/staggered in-office hours. A sales team that’s often on the road with customers could benefit greatly from working distraction-free at the home office. Taking into consideration the day-to-day demands, requirements and deliverables of the various functions/teams within your company will allow you to create customized flex policies that not only make for happier employees, but for a high performing business.

Enforcing new policies

The internal success of flex benefits, regardless of which arrangements are decided on, depends greatly on how they are communicated and enforced. Although it’s enticing to skip the dreaded step of documentation, it’s crucial to record the flex policies in writing and to incorporate them into your handbook so that they can be referenced at any time. See below for an example of a written flex policy.

Although some companies choose not to formally communicate the policies and leave it up to the employees “best judgment,” the lack of clarity can lead to murkiness around what’s “allowed” and “not allowed.” This often results in employees having to ask managers for permission to act on the unspoken flex benefits, ultimately defeating their purpose. Gray areas can easily result in internal friction and confusion.

Communicate the new benefits at a company all-hands and be transparent that some teams have different benefits than others. Encourage managers to host follow-up meetings with their individual teams to walk through the details of their policy and to be explicit that expectations and goals will not change in any way despite the added flexibility with schedules. Managers should also emphasize that team members will need to be flexible themselves with regard to their new flex benefits based on certain deadlines that may arise or high-priority projects that need extra attention.

Lastly, it’s important that managers lead by example by leveraging the flex benefits themselves. If employees see leaders enjoying the perks, they’ll feel more comfortable doing the same. By communicating and enforcing flex benefits in a clear, transparent and thorough manner, you’ll avoid the internal backlash of ambiguity and allow for an environment of accountability and ownership.

The bottom line is that if employers want to keep winning top talent, they must embrace the concept of flexibility at work. If company leaders do the work to educate themselves on the different forms of flexibility, realize the huge benefits that come with it and are intentional in their internal communication of such arrangements, they’ll be well on their way to creating a workplace centered around accountability, maturity and understanding.

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