by Ambro by Ambro

One of the best ways to help employees achieve work/life balance is through flexible working arrangements. And as technology has increased the possibility of working anywhere and whenever, flexible work has become common. There are significant benefits to the employer when flexible arrangements are offered such as lower turnover and employees feeling empowered and in control of work/life balance. However, managing the process can be thorny: are employees more productive at home? If their hours are different, is there enough visibility for an employee who wants to advance? There are many considerations when implementing such a plan.

95% of employees in a recent survey reported that flexibility, over salary and career mobility, was important in a job. Studies show that employees who have flexible work arrangements are more likely to remain with an employer for longer and report increased job satisfaction. From a generational standpoint, this is also a hot topic. As boomers move closer to retirement and take care of aging relatives, they are looking for options beyond the standard 9-5. On the other side, millennials are forging a new attitude towards work and productivity: accustomed to having technology at their fingertips, the traditional “grind” of an office seems irrelevant.

Last year, Yahoo and Best Buy ended flexible work arrangement programs amid controversy. While Best Buy’s corporate office functions in the traditional 9-5 sphere, Yahoo is a technology company. It is ironic that a company that has been part of technological advances making telecommuting possible has now rescinded that option. Yahoo said that having employees in the office will increase engagement. It is true that employees who are not in close proximity communicate less and this can negatively impact collaboration.

Some managers are concerned about managing other employees’ expectations. In one survey, 48% of managers agreed with the statement that allowing some employees to work flexibly causes resentment. In addition, some managers fear that once a plan is given to one or two employees, everyone will want it. This “floodgate” mentality makes it more difficult to implement flexible programs as managers strive to meet the needs of employees while still taking into consideration larger business needs.

Approaching the Flexible Work Arrangement

If there is a company-wide policy regarding flexible work, you may have guidelines on your side. However, if you work in a small company, or are a business owner yourself, decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. In either case, some characteristics of successful flexible work programs include:

A plan: Focusing on the “how” as opposed to the “why” increases the likelihood of success. Setting parameters around the plan (what hours the employee will be online, the frequency of conference calls, and recourse if things go awry) will help manage expectations of both the employee and the manager.

Communication: While communication in the workplace is important, when employees work remotely or off hours, it is even more important. Companies take advantage of video conference capabilities and frequent conference calls. Requiring occasional team meetings onsite and scheduled updates will also support communication and the dreaded “face time.”

Survey: If you have one or more employees in a flexible situation, taking the time on a regular basis to find out what works and doesn’t work for all workers will increase the likelihood that such programs will continue.

The Bottom line: How are flexible work arrangements supporting or growing the business? Has there been a positive uptick in productivity, revenue, or morale? As well as looking at the situation from the employee perspective, evaluating the business impact will provide insight and possibly even pleasantly surprise skeptics.

Looking Forward

Some believe we are in the middle of a paradigm shift with regards to how work should take place. 30 years ago, most work was done in an office, with a rotary phone, and memos were typed on a typewriter. When you got up from your desk and left the building, work ended and was waiting when you returned the next day. Today, we have laptops, smartphones, and the ability to be connected 24/7. It is possible to be constantly working, and it seems that many people are doing just that. While this increases productivity for companies and improves the bottom line, it results in burnout on the part of the employee. It seems that this change in technology with its benefit of increased productivity could be better reflected in our work practices. Flexible work arrangements can be successful, as companies such as Aetna and American Express have shown. The key may be viewing the concept of work and office hours from a new perspective.

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