Recently, I met with an HR leader from a 150-year-old corporation who was making a case for increased work-life balance. She felt sure that allowing more employees to set their own schedule and work from home would help this company sustain as a hub of innovative, leading talent. She also felt that the flexibility was necessary to compete with the most popular employers today.
On the other hand, her management counterparts were extremely concerned that walking away from an in-office, nine-to-five work culture would cause a major drain in productivity.
So who is right?
The hours of Corporate America have become increasingly demanding. As clear-cut hierarchies have been displaced by the infamous matrix organization, the work involved with simply performing work has increased ten-fold. Further, Americans thankfully have become increasingly oriented toward wellness and exercise, a priority is can sometimes be at odds with a long workday.
The average corporate professional spends 14% of their workweek on email, and as much 40% on meetings or other unproductive tasks. Increases in communication and meetings have actually led to a decline in productivity. Further, work commutes have increased in this country. The average commute is now 26 minutes each way, which means the worker spends 9 days a year commuting. That's why so many remote workers feel that when they work from home, their productivity has increased ten-fold.
Fairygodboss (my company) has crowd-sourced the flexibility, remote working, and work-life balance policies of thousands of companies. Through our research, we learned that about 50 percent of the Fortune 1000 have implemented some kind of flexible working arrangement, and numbers are increasing. Here's why:
1. Flexibility comes standard for top millennial workers.
Millennials are so attracted to flexible work culture that they say they would take a pay cut in exchange for it. Talented young people hold flexible, individual contributor-oriented culture as the new gold standard -- and will quickly leave jobs that don't allow for it.
Silicon Valley and the startup culture deliver on this requirement in spades. If established companies plan to compete for talent with startups that are hiring rapidly and aggressively, flexibility is a must in your culture.
2. Flexibility makes all the difference for working parents -- and especially working mothers.
Fundamentally, the challenge for working parents in America is that school hours are 8-3 and work hours are 9-5. Or 6. Or 7. Which means that there is a fundamental disconnect for workers between work and family.
Most working parents I know aren't lobbying to work 9-3 every day. But, what they'd like is the opportunity to be a part of their kids lives in the moments that really matter -- for example, soccer games and sick days. Flexibility can make a huge difference -- relieving parents of the guilt and pressure of trying to be in two places at once, and lackluster performance that can come as a result.
While this challenge is most acute today for working mothers -- mainly because of the second shift phenomenon -- as more families become dual-income, the best solution for American families is to move toward a model of flexibility for all workers.
3. Flexibility creates results-oriented work environments.
While working at Google, I was introduced to OKR's (Objectives and Key Results). I connected with my manager on these weekly, and the rest of the time I was entirely focused on getting these objectives accomplished. No one cared where or when I achieved my objectives -- so long as they were achieved.
In face-time environments, the focus can become so much more about the process of doing work and so much less on the actual doing. Meetings and informal conversations can be useful in moderation, but in most corporate cultures, there is overload. And there is a perverse incentive here that results in workers "looking busy" instead of actually being busy. Which is why I'm sure I've caught more than one worker busily at her desk playing computer games.
4. Autonomous Workers Are Effective Workers.
Despite the fact that traditional corporate structures eschew it, autonomy is one of the single greatest motivators for any workers. Too few corporate workers enjoy the autonomy that would allow them to thrive and to be innovative contributors to the organization.
Different people flourish at different hours; others in different environments. Some are extroverts and like being around others, some prefer working in quiet locations. There is no one size fits all and when we try to force one, it detracts rather than contributes to outcomes.
So consider how to add flexibility or greater work-life balance to your company's practices. You're likely to see increased employee engagement and productivity and you'll attract better talent at the same time. And maybe you'll even get an extra workout in this week.