The Hard-numbers Case for a Flexible Workplace
BY Geri Stengel
Giving your employees flexible hours cuts costs, spurs growth and lifts morale. The numbers prove it.
In a recent column, I suggested you make your business family friendly. Your reaction may have been, “Yeah, right! Like I have extra money laying around for employee happy-pills.”
Well, I know you don’t. But if you have ambitions to grow your business efficiently, cut costs, and retain your best talent, a flexible workplace is just the business strategy you need. It’s not an employee benefit (better known as a cost). Instead, it’s a change in culture that reaps real dollar benefits.
Marcee Harris Schwartz is the Flex Strategy Advisor at BDO, a global accounting and financial advisory firm with offices in 135 countries. Check out that title: Why would a number-crunching firm buy into the culture of a flexible workplace? Because the numbers add up.
Like many companies, BDO wants to expand into new geographic areas. It can be expensive to set up an office and hire staff while establishing a presence. When expanding into Austin, TX, several BDO employees moved there (where they preferred to live anyway) and telecommuted from cafes, their homes, and client sites. In three years, they’d developed enough of a presence and client base to justify opening a physical office. Savings: $1.6 million in staffing and rent, according to the CFO.
In 2009, BDO opened new offices in New York City. Because of its flexible strategies, only 188 square feet per employee was needed, versus 237 in previous offices. Savings: $1.5 to $1 million annually, according to the CFO. That’s just for the New York office. The same applies to other new offices.
Seasonal flex allows people to work 100-hour weeks during the busy season in their office, then work much less when business is slower. Some of these employees average out to 100% employment, others to 75%. Either way, they are able to indulge in seasonal outside interests. Skiing anyone? Payroll goes out when income is high. When income is reduced so, too, are expenses. The company gains an unquantified but still real cash-flow advantage.
A New York City team had a complex out-of-town client situation that required extensive back-and-forth traveling. The team was burning out and slowing down. So they sat down and re-designed their schedules in a way that required much more planning but much less travel. Burn-out went down and quality of work went up. The client was better served by more advanced planning, and the company saved money in travel costs.
None of these required approval from on high. Because flexibility is now part of the culture, work units can design their own schedules according to what is best for all immediate stakeholders: clients, management, employees.
BDO worked with Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc. Yost is an ardent advocate of workplace flexibility as a business strategy rather than an employee perk. Her focus is finding the business benefits of flexibility and training both management and employees to deal with the cultural changes needed to make it work.
Oh, and that perk thing, the one about keeping talented employees? BDO started its flexibility project as part of its “women’s initiative” but the research came back “that flexibility is an issue for everyone,” says Harris Schwartz. Men and employees without children reported having a harder time managing life and work than working mothers, she says. “More than 90% of employees found [flexible work] an important retention driver.”