A successful business requires not only a great product or service, but also a culture where employees can thrive. Here at InspiringApps, we believe one way to help build a vibrant and diverse team is through flexible work policies.
We are not alone in believing in the value of flexible work environments – a large portion of the American workforce desires more control over when, where, and how they work. According to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report, “More than half of employees (53%) say a role that allows them to have greater work-life balance is “very important” to them when considering whether to take a new job. Similar numbers of employees (51%) say they would change jobs for one that offered them flextime, and 37% would do the same for a job that offered them the ability to work where they want at least part of the time.”
While flexible work policies can make employees healthier, happier, and more productive, it’s important to note that businesses also reap significant additional benefits. In this post, we’ll discuss what constitutes flexible work policies, and explore how to leverage the advantages they offer. We’ll also comment on some potential challenges and how to address them for the benefit of the company and the employees.
What are Flexible Work Policies?
Telecommuting is typically top of mind when people think of flexible work policies. While working remotely from a company’s office is undoubtedly a highly sought after situation within flexible arrangements, there are many other possibilities. Reduced hours, flex hours (where employees set some or all of their schedule), job-sharing, compressed workweeks, and even extended sabbaticals are all flexible options a company might offer.
Many companies implement some combination of the above list. For example, at InspiringApps, we encourage employees to work out of the office two days a week. We also are willing to employ people on a part-time basis, and give employees a high degree of flexibility around their daily schedules. This works great for us but is far from the only way to do it. There are an incredible number of combinations possible and it’s worth considering what scenarios could be successful for your team, beyond the typical “8 to 5” in the office.
Benefits of Flexible Work Policies for Employees
Office work environments did not come into being by chance – they often provide an excellent environment for employees to collaborate and can accelerate innovation, creativity, and productivity. So, why then, are so many individuals expressing a desire to work outside an office? There are a range of benefits that employees often experience:
Improved Work Quality & Effectiveness: Flexible hours enable people to work when they are their freshest and most productive, whether that be early in the morning or late at night. Likewise, workers can take a break when they need it, rather than pushing harder than they should, causing burn-out in times of stress or difficulty.
Greater Ability to Meet Family & Personal Needs: Rather than taking time off for everything from going to the doctor to managing home repairs to watching a kids’ sporting event, workers with flexible schedules have the freedom to do those things and then work at a different time of day. Childcare costs can also be drastically reduced if a couple both have flex schedules, enabling one to handle morning duties and the other after school.
Less Stress & Time in Commuting: Obviously those who are working entirely from home skip out on a commute entirely – often adding an easy two hours of time back to their day for work or play. But even those who still commute benefit from flexible work hours because they can travel at non-peak times.
Improved Health: A study from University of Minnesota reported that flexible schedules enabled employees to get more sleep and improved quality of sleep, leading to higher energy levels and reduced emotional exhaustion. In addition, workers were more likely to seek medical help when ill, returning to work more quickly as a result. In a similar vein, a paper published in the American Sociological Review reported that employees who were given full reign over their schedules and evaluated on results, not hours worked, were happier, healthier, and less stressed. The positive effects even cascaded down to employees’ children.
Benefits of Flexible Work Policies for Companies
For flexible work policies to really be successful, they must be a win for both the employees and the company. Thankfully, evidence shows that both parties really do benefit. Some significant wins for the company include:
Broader Talent Pool: The tech industry is often especially challenged to find and recruit talent, given the high demand for certain job skills. By offering flexibility, businesses can widen their applicant pool to candidates in other parts of the country, or even the world. Flexible work policies open the door to hiring military spouses, people who want to travel, freelancers, and those who live in rural or economically depressed areas, among others. Millennials also highly value flexibility as a benefit.
Lower Expenses & Environmental Impact: Depending on the specific policies you have in place, flexible workplaces often help companies reduce costs for office space and other overhead expenses. With approximately 25% of its workforce currently working from home from 2-5 days per week, Dell now saves roughly $12M a year in real estate costs. They estimate that they also emit 35,000 fewer metric tons of greenhouse gas as a result of fewer employees commuting on a daily basis.
Greater Employee Productivity: One commonly stated concern about remote work is that employees are slacking off – a fear that “if I can’t see you, you’re not really working.” In reality, the opposite is almost always true. CNN Money cites several reports showing that the combination of office distractions (e.g. ambient noise, other conversations, ringing phones) and regular interruptions by co-workers lead to a loss of focus, and thus productivity, as the employee needs to re-orient to their work after each interruption.
Further, Gallup reports that employee engagement actually climbs when employees spend some time working remotely.
As noted above, employees are often less stressed when given flexible work arrangements. This positively impacts productivity for the company as well, for it’s easier to generate great work when you’re not exhausted and anxious. Likewise, because employees often shift work hours to accommodate appointments or events, rather than taking time off, the company benefits from their time.
Increased Company Loyalty: With so many Americans desiring flexible policies for the reasons above, the likelihood of retaining top professionals increases when you offer flexibility. Losing talented employees can be a significant setback for a company because of the loss of expertise, as well as the additional cost incurred in finding a suitable replacement. Recruiting requires considerable time and money, not only to find and hire a new employee but also to on-board them.
Key Concepts for Implementing Flexible Work Policies
While there are definite benefits to flexible work policies, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t potential pitfalls. Here are some areas that are important to consciously navigate.
Formal Policies: The best options are spelled out for the company at large, not just granted at the discretion of a particular manager. Not only does the latter lead to inconsistency in interpretation and execution, but the benefits could also disappear when leadership changes. Further, without a formal policy, there is greater risk for employees that they will be dinged in promotions or pay. On the company side, a lack of written expectations makes it harder to address problematic behavior or performance associated with flexible arrangements.
The Bottom Line: While work/life balance does lead to healthier employees, it’s important to ensure that the policies put in place also support business goals. For example, Inc. Magazine reports that people performing rote tasks often are less productive while working remotely, while those doing creative tasks can be 11% to 20% more productive. So, if the tasks you need to accomplish fall into the former category, you may need to put in place more detailed expectations to ensure productivity isn’t lost.
Team Cohesion: It’s possible to have a cohesive, collaborative, and effective team, even if employees are working in different locations or on different time schedules. However, this will not just happen by chance! Managers need to be trained on how to build connection and trust between employees, especially when they are not co-located. Consistent – but not necessarily daily – connection through phone calls, texts, emails, or video conferencing is important. Likewise, encouraging the full team to be physically present for strategic meetings, events, or noteworthy celebrations helps to cultivate relationships.
While not without its challenges, InspiringApps has benefitted greatly by implementing flexible work policies for our company. If you’re interested in learning more, we invite you to attend our panel discussion at this year’s Boulder Startup Week. Sign up here to join us for what promises to be a great event.