The unemployment rate in the U.S. is at its lowest level in more than four decades. In response, companies have been in a veritable arms race to offer bigger and better perks and win over employees, from the cliché office Ping-Pong table to quirky Google Nap Pods.

According to Bill Gates, these efforts and many others miss the mark while the most important perk is hiding in plain sight: flexibility.

The Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist said, "The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge."

The Work-From-Anywhere Advantages

Any claim from Gates is worth your attention, but this one is even more compelling because the data backs up his assertion.

Research from Harvard Business School professor Prithwiraj Choudhury found that employees at companies with work-from-anywhere policies such as GitHub and Akamai were 4.4 percent more productive than those who had flexibility but still needed to live near the office.

That increased output is a win for employers, but employees benefit from flexibility as well. Without the geographical constraints imposed by a physical office, employees can move to an area with a much lower cost of living, effectively increasing their salary.

So how can you embrace a work-from-anywhere policy that benefits employers and employees alike?

1. Untether your workforce.

The average one-way commute is 26.1 minutes, which means your employees are needlessly spending more than 3.5 percent of their lives battling traffic on interstates around the country. In major city centers such as D.C. and L.A., that number could be much higher. By offering employees the opportunity to work from anywhere, you're literally giving them a significant portion of their lives back. It's no wonder they respond with enthusiasm! An added bonus? Fewer cars on the road and a big reduction in CO2 emissions.

2. Invest in the right solutions.

Without employees working alongside one another, you'll need to figure out how to keep everyone on the same page. While you can't replace all the day-to-day interactions that occur in an office, you can implement communications tools such as Slack or Google Hangouts and project management tools like Asana or Trello. Pick solutions that work for you and ensure employees are trained in how to use them.

3. Update processes accordingly.

Don't expect employees to clear out their desks and start working exclusively from home without experiencing some disruptions. Whether you had a company check-in every Friday or team meetings on Tuesdays, certain processes will need to change to keep up with flexible work arrangements. That might mean implementing a company newsletter or having more thorough quarterly updates.

According to Choudhury's experiment with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, flexible work arrangements could enable the organization to create an additional $1.3 billion in value for the U.S. economy.

Now imagine if we could realize those benefits across thousands of organizations around the country. The impact of one workplace "perk" could be truly profound.

Published on: Jan 9, 2020
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