Workplace flexibility is a big focus for many companies as we move towards more modern workplaces. Employees have a huge desire for flexibility, and many organizations are focused on giving it to them. We live in a hyperconnected global world where work-life balance has been obliterated and replaced by work-life integration. This means we take our personal lives to work and our work lives home. To continue to work in this type of environment, we have to abandon the notion of the 9 to 5 workday and instead shift toward allowing employees to work anytime from locations of their choosing whenever possible. Granted, this type of work environment is not suited for or available for every type of role, such as manufacturing. Still, employees should have as much flexibility and choice as possible.

Consider the following statistics from Global Workplace Analytics:

•    Half of the U.S. workforce has jobs in which at least partial telework is possible, and one-quarter to one-fifth of the workforce works remotely with some frequency.

•    80%-90% of U.S. employees would like to telework part time at minimum. Two or three days per week appears to be the right amount, allowing enough time for on-site collaborate work and off-site concentrative work.

•    Because studies show employees are away from their desk as much as 60% of their workdays, Fortune 1000 companies worldwide are entirely redesigning their spaces.

However, workplace flexibility involves more than simply letting employees work from home. Flexibility refers to employees genuinely being able to pick when and where they work, whether it means coming into an office, working from home, going to a coffee shop or co-working facility, or going anywhere else where they can get their jobs done. According to FlexJobs, flexible work provides several benefits to employees and organizations, including increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, cost savings, increased trust, and employees who are healthier, happier, and less stressed.

In 2016, American Sociological Review published a survey authored by Phyllis Moen and Erin L Kelly.  In the study the authors worked with an unnamed Fortune 500 company over a 12-month period to see whether workplace flexibility had any noticeable impact. To accomplish the study, they split the IT department into two groups; one with a flexible program and one without. The group given the flexible work options was able to work anywhere and anytime and was evaluated based on the work produced instead of being see in the office. The results of the study were quite conclusive, showing that the team within IT that was given the flexible work arrangement felt better about their jobs, had less burnout, and felt lower levels of stress. According to the authors, the study shows the necessity of organization-wide initiatives creating greater supervisor support and control and flexibility for employees.

To further make this point, EY did a study in 2015 that surveyed almost 10,000 full-time employees in eight of the world's largest economies. The employees listed flexibility as a top feature they wanted in a job and ranked it slightly less important than a competitive salary.

Looking at how the workplace continues to change, it's almost impossible to imagine a world where workplace flexibility won't become the standard for how we work. It's simply becoming too hard, too stressful, and less practical not to have this type of arrangement. Not to mention we have the technologies today that can easily support this way of working.

I use Uber quite frequently when I travel, and I always like to strike up a conversation with the drivers to find out why they work with Uber and why they like it. I've had drivers with all sorts of backgrounds ranging from airplane mechanics and corporate attorneys to nurses and finance MBA graduates. They are people who could easily be working for companies like Wells Fargo, Deloitte, or United Airlines, but they aren't. Why not? Because of the flexibility that Uber offers them--that's the number one thing every Uber driver always tells me. The amount of money they would make isn't that different, but they value being able to be in control of when and where they work. This is what freelancers on sites such as Upwork always say as well; flexibility does indeed make a huge difference. This used to be seen as a perk or a bonus, but now many employees consider this the standard for how work could and should be done.

How is your organization creating flexibility for employees? Consider introducing a workplace flexibility program with training and clear expectations and guidelines. Offering flexibility is a small change that can make a big difference for employees. I explore this more in my latest book. 

Published on: Jan 31, 2018