Much of the buzz around flexible work in recent years has focused on employees demanding it. From the employee perspective, having the option to ditch long commutes, save money on work attire and avoid in-office distractions are a few of the hot selling points.
But what about from the employer side? Many employers view flexible work solely as an employee perk, with no significant benefit to the company as a whole. According to results from a survey by FlexJobs and WorldatWork, only three percent of companies were trying to quantify their return on investment by offering job flexibility or flexible work.
“It says loudly and clearly that employers and management believe flexible work only benefits they employee; they don’t even think it will benefit the broader organization.” – Sara Sutton Fell, 1 Million for Work Flexibility Founder and FlexJobs CEO.
What may be partly to blame is that the bulk of the discussion on flexible work benefits in recent years has been one-sided. Improving work/life balance and employee satisfaction are two of the main advantages typically discussed that speak directly to employees.
What’s not generally considered, however, are the major short and long-term economic benefits employers can expect by offering flexible work programs for employees. Some of these benefits include:
- Lower real estate, utility, and supply costs. A company stands to save approximately $11,000 annually per remote working employee on real estate, utility and office supply costs alone. And the more teleworkers you have, the more your company will save on these major expenses.
- Better employee retention. 82 percent of professionals said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. And 39 percent have turned down a promotion, have not taken a job, or have quit a job because of a lack of flexible work options. Telecommuting is one perk that can significantly enhance job satisfaction and loyalty. Telework programs also help companies retain employees who may experience a common circumstance – e.g. needing to take care of a sick family member without using all of their paid time off (PTO).
- A healthier (lower cost) work environment. A common concern in workplace wellness is “presenteeism” – working while sick, which leads to productivity loss, poor health, and exhaustion. Poor worker health and related productivity losses cost U.S. employers hundreds of billions of dollars annually. And much of this is attributable to germs being spread within the workplace, which can be avoided if employees are teleworking.
- Vastly larger talent pool – you can hire anyone, no matter where they are located. Competing on a global scale requires you to seek the best talent out there. And the tolerance for hiring generalists in engineering, marketing, finance, or really any department is rapidly decreasing. Hiring managers are looking for highly specialized skills and industry-specific experience, making finding the right candidate within driving distance of your headquarters next to impossible. And with modern communication tools, such as video, companies can hire employees with the right skill sets, and build a strong company culture with their remote teams.
Now You Know Why. Here’s How:
Of course, you can’t just institute a new flexible work policy and expect to achieve these benefits naturally. There are certain actions you need to take to ensure business operations will run like they should as if everyone were working within the office. CEOs and other organizational leaders must ensure three major business functions are contributing to the success of a new flexible work policy.
First, you need to ensure you have the right IT infrastructure in place to manage flexible working. IT teams need to implement the right communication tools to make working from home, a shared space or a local coffee shop just as secure, accessible and interactive as working from an office.
Then there is the HR component. HR must help bring in leaders who are comfortable managing teams they may rarely sit in the same room with. As Jeanne Meister and Kevin Mulcahy, co-authors of The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees state:
“…Offering remote work flexibility and helping employees be accountable to delivering results is a required management skill for the future. Managers should consider experimenting with different policies and connect with other managers whom successful lead remote teams. Managers who cannot adapt and experiment with newer work practices and will not be managers for long.”
There’s also a marketing element to consider. When your army of brand ambassadors don’t sit in an office all day, it can be easy to drift from brand principles and values. Marketing must take a proactive stance to reach remote workers with content that articulates and reinforces these values to ensure everyone goes to market with the same voice. Utilizing a video content management platform to share content internally is one effective approach to keep employees engaged and connected on the right messaging.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is an example of a company that has successfully extended its flexible working policy to all 6,000 of its employees. Under this program, managers are instructed to find a way to make the arrangements work unless they can convince their superiors that having their staff work remotely is impossible.
This rollout for all employees was implemented in 2015, and the flexible working arrangements have benefited PwC as a whole.
“We would overwhelmingly say it has had a positive impact on our productivity. We are a people business so it is all about how we enable our people to be at their best and we know they are at their best when they feel their life is under control”. – Debra Eckersley, Human capital partner for PwC.
Co-authors Jeanne Meister and Kevin Mulcahy share in a recent WorkSpace Today article:
“Both Aetna and American Express have documented, workplace flexibility programs treated as part of a company’s strategy can generate cost savings, talented worker pools, increased efficiency, and more satisfied employees. Specifically, American Express Blue Work program has delivered not only improved worker productivity but also saved between $10- $15 million annually in real estate costs. And Aetna Insurance, where 47% of its workforce is working remotely has shed 2.7 million square feet of office space and reaped $78 million in savings. So companies first must consider workplace flexibility as a strategic lever not just an employee perk.”
It is estimated that by the year 2020, 50% of people will be working remotely. Employers need to view flexible work options as a major benefit to the company, not just an employee perk. And companies need to ensure they have the right systems, processes and communication tools in place to keep employees connected and engaged to drive business forward.