Across the country, as well as right here in Northeast Ohio, flexible work arrangements are continuing to grow in popularity. According to a national survey administered in 2013, nearly one-third of employees indicated that they “do most of their work from a remote location.”
Locally, the 2013-2014 ERC Policies & Benefits Survey reports an almost identical percentage for exempt employees that are telecommuting as part of their regular work schedule. Both studies indicate double digit growth in the percentage of remote workers over the past several years and with ever evolving technologies that will help keep remote workers connected to their colleagues at the office, this isn’t a trend that is likely to reverse itself any time soon.
An Overview of the Options
Of course telecommuting is not the only alternative work schedule available to employees. Options include compressed work weeks, flextime schedules (i.e. allowing variable start and end times), job sharing and part time schedules. In addition, it is important to note that exempt employees are not the only employee group given options on how to structure their work schedules, although the options may take on slightly different formats depending on the nature of the work itself. For example, telecommuting is less common for non-exempt employees than for their exempt co-workers. Conversely, non-exempt employees more frequently have the opportunity to choose compressed work weeks or part time work than exempt employees.
It’s What Employees Want
A 2014 study by Flex+Strategy Group/Work Life Fit, an organization focused on flexible workplace strategies, places the focus on individual employees’ experiences and opinions of their own flexible (or inflexible) jobs. With so much focus from 2013-2014 on Melissa Mayer and Yahoo, perhaps one of the most surprising findings from the study is that approximately 75% or employees that work remotely are male. Furthermore, there was no statistically significant difference found between the age groups of the remote worker or in the comparison between those with or without children at home. In short, flexible workplace practices are enjoyed by a range of employees from all walks of life, not just Millennials or moms.
Locally, workplace flexibility and work-life-balance options are consistently ranked high among top performers at NorthCoast 99 winners. These attributes are typically in the top five that this top talent is looking for in their jobs and is also commonly cited as a key reason this highly desirable talent remains with their current employer.
Benefits to You the Employer
When implemented correctly, WorldatWork research indicates that flexible work arrangements benefit employers by accomplishing the following:
- reducing turnover
- improving employee engagement and/or satisfaction
- improving overall employee well-being
- improving employee productivity/performance and of course
- better work-life balance among employees
In terms of how to put together a flexible workplace policy “correctly”, the Flex+Strategy Group study strongly suggests that employers need to recalibrate how they view the flexible work options being considered. More specifically, the authors note, “Telework must be viewed as far more than a human resources benefit. Working from a location other than an employer’s office is clearly an operational strategy that’s a core component of the business model of many organizations.”
The same can likely be said for any type of flexible working arrangement. With just under one-third of the respondents to the 2013-2014 Policies & Benefits Survey indicating that they also give consideration to individual employee proposals requesting alternative scheduling, having a flexible workplace is perhaps less about policy and more about overall organizational culture and business strategy.
While a straightforward flexible work policy is important to have on hand, the message that flexible scheduling sends to your employees (and potential employees) is the underlying force beneath each of the benefits listed above. Ultimately, it is these benefits that in turn provide you the employer with a strategic advantage over your peers.
Not for Everyone
Despite the clear indications that flexible workplaces and schedules have significant benefits for both employer and employee alike, not all forms of flexibility are practical for all industries or job duties. Before putting together a policy on flexible work options for employees, it is worthwhile to find out what other organizations like yours (i.e. similar size, industry, etc) have implemented in terms of flexible workplace practices. Not only will this help you as the employer decide what will work strategically for your workplace, but doing your research can also help you offer some context to your workforce if you decide to implement a policy that allows flexibility for some, but not all job types.
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