Over the last 10 years, media outlets large and small have published scores of articles about the pitfalls of flexible work options. The main premise is usually that the downsides are insurmountable, or that they’d require too much effort to overcome, or that companies are finally realizing flexible and remote work just isn’t worth the effort.
And yet, the flexible work trend continues. Telecommuting grew 115% over the last 10 years, more people start freelancing every year, and professionals repeatedly say they place incredible value on flexible work arrangements.
Clearly, there is something about flexible work options that resonates with both companies and professionals.
What is it? What is it about flexible work options that, despite the perceived difficulty experienced in managing them, makes them indispensable to the modern organization?
Here are three reasons flexible work is worth the effort.
1. Flexible work is already happening. A little effort will maximize its potential.
Ad hoc flexibility is firmly rooted in the modern workplace. People check email at night and on the weekends. They take work home with them. They flee the office in droves to complete their most important projects. They shift work hours to attend children’s recitals, take elderly parents to doctor appointments, and avoid the worst commuting times every day.
And yet, only 3% of employers track the performance of flexible work programs to measure strengths and weaknesses. 67% let each individual manager decide who gets which flexible work options. The informality with which companies currently approach flexible work is astounding.
By setting up more formalized, company-wide policies, these programs become more manageable, more measureable, and more beneficial to the company. Formal flexible work programs can lead to higher productivity, reduced costs, lower turnover, better recruiting, and many other benefits for companies.
2. The best managerial practices for flexible workers are great for all workers.
Companies get set in their managerial ways. By shifting away from traditional management tactics towards best practices for managing flexible workers, all workers benefit.
As I’ve written previously, the characteristics of people who manage flexible workers successfully should be adopted company-wide because they are effective for all workers:
- Be a proactive communicator. Regular check-ins, casual conversation, and asking, “What’s getting in your way or holding you back?” are all great ways to communicate openly with your team.
- Measure performance and results, period. And measure key metrics monthly or quarterly, not yearly.
- Focus on processes and process improvement to ensure productivity and well-supported staff.
- Use a combination of communication tools, and make it clear which communication tools should be used for what. (IM for quick questions or casual chat, email for brainstorming, phone calls for deeper conversations, etc.).
- Spot conflict early and talk about it openly. Especially in flexible environments where people are working relatively independently, don’t let conflict fester or office politics run amuck.
- Don’t rely on “face time” or employee presence as an indication of productivity, reliability, or performance.
3. Flexible work makes employees happy.
I saved this one for third place on purpose. Too often, employee satisfaction is the only metric discussed when weighing the benefits of flexible work options for employers. Flexible work options? Employees love them! But they offer little to no benefit for the employers. Right?
Just recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on “The Downside of Too Much Flexibility at Work.” The very first idea posited by author Jennifer Deal is that flexible work options mainly benefit the employees, while causing employers to craft “bespoke employment agreements” at the expense of company strategy and success.
But just because employee happiness is overblown as the main benefit of flexible work programs doesn’t mean it’s not worth mentioning. Happier employees—those who feel they have more control over when, where, and how they’re working—are more satisfied in their jobs, more productive, less likely to quit, and both mentally and physically healthier.
Those outcomes clearly and directly benefit employers through improved efficiency, reduced turnover, and even lower health insurance costs.
So, while it’s not even close to the only benefit of flexible work programs, employee satisfaction is worth mentioning as one of the main reasons flexible work is worth the effort.
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