Although often lumped together, remote and flexible work arrangements come in many forms. And when structured properly the benefits are crystal clear.
Specifically, work flexibility benefits businesses and the bottom line. In fact, if every firm in the country adopted work flexibility, our economy could save about $15 billion annually, according to economist Heather Boushey. Expanding access to work flexibility could also significantly reduce or eliminate the gender pay gap.
So what is keeping more organizations from embracing flexible work environment? For more insight, we reached out to Emma Plumb, director of 1 Million for Work Flexibility (1MFWF), a national initiative advocating for the broader adoption of work flexibility. 1MFWF is currently celebrating National Flex Day on October 17 to raise awareness.
Why is celebrating National Flex Day important?
In order for work flexibility to become a standard business practice, we need folks to be talking about how valuable it is for both employers and employees of all types. While it’s important to have those conversations throughout the year, National Flex Day provides a dedicated opportunity for us all to collectively focus on ways to improve work for ourselves, our businesses, our communities, and our economy.
What misconceptions still exist around flexible work arrangements?
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of misconceptions! One of the biggest is that remote work is a trend on its way out. A new piece in the Atlantic called “When Working From Home Doesn’t Work“ suggests that we’re likely to see more companies follow IBM’s recent reversal on remote work. LinkedIn followed that up with a thread titled, “The Troubled Future of Remote Working”.
Flex isn’t going away. We’ll continue to hit bumps along the road, and there will always be challenges as we continue to navigate new ways to work. But companies that embrace those challenges head on and lead the charge will be the ones to come out ahead in the long run.
Last time we talked you discussed a goal of flexible work becoming the norm. What do you see as the primary hurdles in realizing this goal?
To me, the hardest part of this effort comes down to people’s innate resistance to change. People are used to working a certain way — even if they don’t particularly like it. There’s a certain comfort in accepting “that’s just how it is,” and there’s a lot of fear around the unfamiliar.
While we have tons of data that shows how effective and beneficial work flexibility can be, and how much better it is than the traditional way of working, data isn’t enough.
Instead, we need to shine spotlights on successful models of flex to demonstrate flex in action. We need to encourage flexibility pilot programs so that people can be introduced to change at a slower pace. We need to ensure that change happens openly and transparently, so that people feel invested and involved.
And most of all, we need to encourage broad dialogue about this issue, so that flexibility becomes part of everyday conversation. That’s exactly why National Flex Day is so important!
What do you see as the keys to making flexible work actually work?
Because there’s no one-size-fits all for flex, there’s no silver bullet for making flex work. But there are certainly some basic structures that apply across the board, including:
- Ensuring flex is accessible for everyone as relevant based on job requirements, rather than offering it just for a select few or just for a certain group of people;
- Clearly communicating expectations;
- Tracking and measuring results; and
- Having a flex champion (or multiple flex champions) at the top of an organization.
What tools do you see as key components to success?
I think flex success relies less on specific tools, and more on proper evaluation of specific needs. In that sense, it really isn’t that different from finding the tools for successful work in general. And the truth is, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to available tools, so there’s lots of room for customization and tailoring.
But along those lines, perhaps most critical is focusing on effective collaboration and communication — that’s a need that’s heightened in flexible work, because there’s no default “face-time” to fall back on. So looking for tools that fit that need best for you is a key place to start!