Flexibility in the Workplace: The Growing Norm

Work used to have boundaries – a 9 to 5 schedule, a desk and an office.

Technology, company culture and the next generation of workers are changing that.

Today, videoconferencing, laptops, smartphones, remote networks and other technology tools are allowing people to work anytime, from anywhere. From remote workforces to flex hours, technology is spurring the creation of a new employee value proposition centered around workers’ wants and needs, including a better work-life balance.

Creating Happy, Healthy Employees

Employees who work flex hours or telecommute experience several benefits, according to a 2017 article published by The Balance, including the ability to meet family needs and personal obligations, a decrease in travel cost and stress from commuting to and from work, and an increased feeling of control over work environments and schedules.

Overall, they are happier and healthier, according to the study, “Changing Work, Changing Health: Can Real Work-Time Flexibility Promote Health Behaviors and Well-Being?” Data analyzed from a Results-Only Work Environment initiative, which was rolled out to nearly 660 Best Buy employees in 2006, revealed people take better care of themselves when they can make their own schedules. Participants received almost an additional hour of sleep, felt less obligated to work when sick and more comfortable with getting medical help. Employees also reported experiencing less work-family stress and emotional exhaustion.

The Workplace Benefits, Too

While employees experience a positive change in behavior, companies also experience positive results, including a boost in employee morale and engagement. Flexible work hours additionally provide an attractive asset for recruitment, and the ability to find talent from a wider pool. Also, during unexpected weather conditions and natural disasters, business operations can continue.

According to a 2014 survey by FlexJobs, a website that helps employees find professional jobs with flexible work options, increased productivity, employee retention and reduced turnover are additional benefits of providing flexible options to the employer.

Best Workplaces for Flexibility

Companies across all industries and of all sizes are implementing flexible options to remain competitive. In 2016, Fortune compiled its first-ever flexibility list, featuring the 50 best workplaces for flexibility. According to a 2016 article published by Fortune, of the more than 200,000 employees surveyed for this list:

  • 77% reported taking advantage of flextime
  • 49% telecommute (work from home)
  • 9 of 10 employees said they planned to stay with their organization for a long time

Companies recognized include Ryan, WellStar Health System, PwC, HubSpot, Edward Jones, Cisco Systems, Build-A-Bear Workshop and more.

Ryan, a 2,000-employee tax services company based in Dallas, TX, earned the top spot for implementing a new policy which measured results rather than hours worked in the office. The change allowed employees to work whenever, wherever, if they met their goals related to financial performance and client service. Those who needed extra time off were able to cut back on hours and create their own schedules. The new policy improved profitability and retention, overcoming a battle against high turnover.

Changing the way people work is not only evolving at small and midsize companies, it’s being rolled out internationally, within global organizations. Below are some examples of international success:

When Flexibility Doesn’t Work

While several case studies point to the success of such programs, other policies are being scaled back or removed completely when profits or business needs suffer.

In 2017, IBM announced that many employees who previously worked remotely would have to return to an office. When the news made headlines, the company faced 20 consecutive quarters of decreasing revenue, according to a 2017 article published by Bloomberg.

While IBM didn’t announce how many employees were affected by the policy change, 10 years earlier, the company reported nearly 40% of its then 400,000 global workforce did not have a traditional office, according to a 2017 article published by CNN.

In 2013, Yahoo made similar changes, giving remote employees less than six months to move back into an office to focus more on collaboration and communication, as explained in an internal company memo, according to a 2013 article published by CNN. Less than a year after making the dramatic shift, Yahoo said it worked: product launches increased, employee engagement rose and Agile teams were thriving, as reported in a 2013 article by Fast Company.

What’s Next? The Future of Work

Employers need to prepare for change as a growing number of workers are expecting companies to offer flexibility.

More than 60% of workers surveyed by PwC in 2016 said they believe the eight-hour workday will become obsolete in the future and nearly 70% say work will be done remotely instead.

To meet employee demands, companies need to strike a balance.

Offering flex hours, remote working, job sharing, compressed workweeks and other work options should align with organizational goals.

Lack of connection to business goals or a formal strategy is a key reason flexible working policies fail, according to Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs. In a 2017 U.S. News article, Fell states only 3% of companies actually track the ROI on such programs.

Without clear results, companies fall short of showcasing policy success. However, failure to adapt to growing expectations could cost companies top talent and future revenue.

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