A CEO exclaimed that she could not compete with the higher-than-average pay and benefits of large employers. “What can I do?” she asked.
I told her she should offer flexible work arrangements to her employees who did most of their work through a computer. This would help her attract more employees, increase productivity, improve employee morale, and save herself lots of money.
Let’s look at what the research says about such a strategy.
Some 80% to 90% of the workforce wants to be telecommuters.[i] More than 75% of millennials say that flexible work hours make them more productive. Further, 43% of millennials say they would switch jobs for more flexibility.[ii] This is a frequent finding of many studies and should not be ignored by talent- minded CEO and CHROs.
A survey conducted in 2017 by Fractl, a content marketing agency and growth marketing services company, asked workers of multiple generations how heavily they would weigh the options when deciding between a high-paying job and a lower-paying job with more perks.[iii] They discovered that the benefits topping the list for being “somewhat” or “heavily” considered were, in this order:
- better health, dental and vision insurance (88%)
- more flexible hours (88%)
- more vacation time (80%)
- work-from-home options (80%)
Flexible work hours are highly popular with any generation, for men as well as women. While flexible work arrangements are frequently thought of as a benefit for women and millennials, research shows that the average telecommuter is 49 years old, a college graduate who works for a company with 100 or more employees and earns $58,000 a year.[iv]
Employers can save more than $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year according to the “2017 State of Telecommuting in the US Employee Workforce,”[v] Across the existing work-at-home population, that potentially adds up to $44 billion in savings. Flexible work options can exist in all sorts of industries from software, technical services medical devices and pharmaceuticals, insurance, banking, most administrative functions, and even call centers.
Consider this case study with a call center. In 2014, the Chinese travel website Ctrip gave the staff at their call center the opportunity to volunteer to work from home for nine months. Half of the volunteers were allowed to telecommute while the rest remained in the office as a control group. The results surprised the study designer Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford professor. He and Ctrip CEO, James Liang, expected that a drop in productivity would offset their real estate savings. Survey responses and performance data collected at the conclusion of the study revealed that the at-home workers were happier, less likely to quit and also more productive. The employees working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office—almost an extra workday a week! The home-based workers had half the turnover rate and much higher job satisfaction. The company also saved $1,900 per employee over the nine months.[vi]
Working at home reduces carbon emissions. If the telecommuting workforce expanded to include those who could and want to work from home, the potential employer savings could approach $690 million a year. Flexible workplace options have increased by 40% since 2010. This strategy also reduces greenhouse emissions by the equivalent of taking over 600,000 cars off the road for a year.[vii]
Employees spend one-half of their saved commuting time to do more work, keeping the other half to achieve better work-life balance. According to the US Census Bureau, US employees spend 25.4 minutes traveling each way to work. It can be 1.5 hours each way in US cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Outside of the US, Moscow, San Paulo Brazil, Bogota Columbia, and London have the worse commute times. Workers want relief from commuting and will jump at opportunities to work productively from home three days a week. My findings after implementing flexible workplace environment are that those working from home three to four days a week spent half of their saved commute time working and kept the other half for themselves.
For many employees, workplace flexibility is a key tool for managing the complexity and hectic nature of modern life. Americans work an average of 47 hours a week, and even more if they are salaried workers — 49 hours a week.[viii] Roughly 60% of two-parent households with children under the age of 18 have two working parents. Among dual-income households, when you combine paid work, child rearing, and household chores, each parent works an average of 58.5 hours a week.[ix] No wonder that flexible work arrangements are increasingly necessary for today’s workforce.
Today’s workplace technology enables, by my research and practical experience, 45% of the workforce to work from home or at a customer or supplier site, three to five days a week. Other workers will need to be in the office daily but often can benefit from flextime. Flexible work arrangements operate best for employees who do most of their work from their computer, where most of their communications do not have to be face-to-face or with customers and suppliers. In addition, they are not needed to be in the office daily for work in labs or assembly teams or participate daily in team meetings or meet daily with customers in a retail setting. However, companies must be very clear about goals, communications and operating norms, and work measures to make flexible work arrangements successful.
I have successfully implemented flexible work arrangements in a medical device business combined with a new office space design. The design provided precisely the right technology and work space that employees needed for where, when and how they worked. The program accomplished every goal it set out to achieve. It reduced facility costs, raised employee morale and productivity, and reduced employee commuting time and carbon emissions. Vital to the program’s success was the transparent implementation of open communication, training for managers and employees, and careful attention to the establishment of operating mechanisms and norms.
To learn more about how to successfully implement a flexible workplace environment, download my valuable and free report, Form Follows Function, (which will be in an upcoming book, Brand It! Build It!) or contact me.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides “hands-on” support for innovation, global talent strategies, using digital technology to improve recruiting and retention, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Contact Victor at VA@VictorHRConsult.com or call him at 707-331-6740. Visit http://www.victorhrconsultant.com for more insights and his valuable free reports.
[ii] “Salary and benefits are most important for US workers and job seekers looking at job ads, according to Glassdoor survey,” Glassdoor Press Center/Press Release, July 25, 2018. Found at https://www.glassdoor.com/press/job-seeker-preferences/.
[iii] Kerry Jones, (Feb. 15, 2017), “The Most Desirable Employee Benefits,” The Harvard Business Review. Found at https://hbr.org/2017/02/the-most-desirable-employee-benefits.
[iv] Lydia Saad “The ’40-Hour’ Workweek Is Actually Longer – by Seven Hours. Full-time U.S. workers, on average, report working 47 hours weekly.” (August 29, 2014). Found at http://www.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx.
[v] “2017 State of Telecommuting in the US Employee Workforce,” Global Workplace Analytics and Flexjobs. Found at https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/2017-state-of-telecommuting-in-the-us.
[vi] Nicolas Bloom. (January-February 2014) “To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home,” The Harvard Business Review.
[vii] “2017 State of Telecommuting in the US Employee Workforce,” Global Workplace Analytics and Flexjobs. Found at https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/2017-state-of-telecommuting-in-the-us.
[viii] Lydia Saad “The ’40-Hour’ Workweek Is Actually Longer – by Seven Hours. Full-time U.S. workers, on average, report working 47 hours weekly.” (August 29, 2014). Found at http://www.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx.
[ix] Kim Parker and Wendy Wang (March 14, 2013) “Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family.” Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/03/14/modern-parenthood-roles-of-moms-and-dads-converge-as-they-balance-work-and-family/.