Advantages and Concerns

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What are some advantages of more flexibility at work?

When people are not authorized to prioritize their own time and responsibilities, their personal lives suffer, their mental health suffers, and subsequently, their work productivity suffers. Studies consistently show that policies allowing for workplace flexibility boost employee morale, foster a stronger results-oriented environment, and result in greater productivity. Greater flexibility nets a positive result for both employees and employers.

Flexwork policies have been proven to benefit employees and employers in the following ways:

Boost employee morale and retention rates
Employees empowered to control their own time are better able to meet their personal commitments and family responsibilities and have better mental health.  As a result of this higher morale, they are more loyal to their employers.

“Study after study shows that increasing numbers of employees value flexibility more than salary.”
-Philanthropy Journal

Boost productivity
It stands to reason that employees with higher morale would also be more productive. By entrusting employees to make their own decisions about how best to get their work done, firms elicit an equally positive response:  employees are eager to repay that goodwill and work harder and smarter.

“The majority (72%) of global businesses report that increased productivity is a direct result of flexible working practices… In almost all cases (68%) firms declare that flexible working has led to staff generating increased revenue.”
-Flexibility Drives Productivity, Regus

Reduce environmental impact and save costs
Supporting teleworking and flexible hours reduces a company’s carbon footprint.  Staggered schedules and telecommuting ease rush hour congestion and can eliminate travel altogether in some cases.  Staffers on flexible schedules or part-time telecommuters can share workspaces, resulting in real-estate savings.  A smaller office space also translates to less electricity usage and fewer supply needs. These cut-backs can also provide significant cost savings.

“[Our teleworkers] prevented approximately 47,320 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the environment due to avoided travel.”
- Cisco, 2008

“[IBM] estimates that its mobile workforce reduces its real estate requirements by at least 2 million square feet, saving IBM about $100 million a year.”
- FinancialWeek, 2007

What are some concerns about more flexibility at work?

Employers accustomed to prioritizing face-time may be concerned that flextime simply will not meet their needs.  Some of these concerns are addressed below.

Too much freedom will mean fewer hours worked
Managers may worry that employees will take advantage of “too much” freedom by trying to get away with working less.  The concern might be that employees will be unreachable, will put in less effort and time into their jobs, and will fail to meet their responsibilities. But encouraging employees to take ownership of their responsibilities inspires confidence and commitment. And presence in an office does not guarantee productivity.  If an employee is not motivated or not qualified to perform at work, problems will arise no matter where he is or what hours he is confined to.

“If you give employees an inch (or more flexibility), they are more likely to go that extra mile for their employers.”
-Families and Work Institute

Management style
Some managers may struggle to adapt to supervising staffers working on different schedules in different locations.  These managers might require extra training and support while adjusting to a new management style.  It’s harder to put out fires when staff members aren’t all immediately available, so managers accustomed to acting in reactive mode may have difficulty learning to work more proactively. However, in many cases, reactive responses are chaotic, poorly implemented, and prone to error.  From a productivity perspective, we should be encouraging managers to plan more carefully and foster a results-oriented and deadline-driven environment.  There will always be unavoidable situations requiring immediate attention, but a flextime policy can easily include advisories for handling those special circumstances.

IT support and security
Telecommuting typically requires accessing office networks from external locations.  A 2008 article in NetworkWorld warns that “telecommuting doesn’t inherently pose more risk than office-based work, but it poses different risks that need to be recognized.”  Citing an Ernst & Young study, Risk at Home: Privacy and Security Risks in Telecommuting, the article notes that most surveyed organizations that support telecommuting do not have formal security policies in place.  The study advises, “Work-from-home arrangements are the next frontier for many companies, and the challenges they pose to privacy and security should be approached with appropriate rigor and resources.”

What’s the cost of not making change?

It’s crucial not to ignore the research that shows the damage done by resisting change.

  • Failing its Families | Human Rights Watch | 2011. “[This report] documents the health and financial impact on American workers of having little or no paid family leave after childbirth or adoption, employer reticence to offer breastfeeding support or flexible schedules, and workplace discrimination against new parents, especially mothers.”

What do you think about workplace flexibility?

Share your thoughts on workplace flexibility. Does your experience match the research?

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