According to When Work Works, work-life balance is “having the support, schedule and flexibility you need at work in order to effectively manage your work and personal/family responsibilities.” When work-life balance is achieved through workplace flexibility, the benefits are numerous: lower turnover, increased engagement and satisfaction, heightened productivity and performance, and better employee health. To hire top talent, employers are also recognizing the need to brand themselves as “employers of choice” with attractive work options as a key differentiator. Here are some of the latest trends in workplace flexibility, a high-level look at how they operate, and some pros and cons to consider:
Telework, also called telecommuting or working remotely, allows employees to work somewhere other than the office. Some companies limit the number of hours/days staff can telework, while others, such as ROWE organizations, give employees complete control over where they do their jobs. The benefits of telework, beyond the positive impact on work-life balance, include company perks (lowered facility costs) and environmental benefits (less driving = less carbon emissions).
As long as things get done, does it matter where the work happens? That depends on individual company cultures and expectations. Employees must be self-directed and trusted by their managers to work without being physically in the office. Staff will need to make an extra effort to maintain the same level of attention and collaboration with each other during meetings. Furthermore, companies must supply their staff with the tools necessary to fully operate somewhere other than the office, such as laptops, phones, secure networks, etc. Telework also eliminates valued face-to-face interactions and the unexpected innovating that can occur in lunchroom or water cooler discussions.
Trimming the traditional workweek from 5 days to 4 days is another hot trend, with Fridays being the common “day off.” The idea is that employees will be motivated by a longer weekend to be highly productive during the 4 days they are at work. As stated by Jason Fried, a software CEO, in a 2012 New York Times op-ed, “Better work gets done in four days than in five. It makes sense: When there’s less time to work, there’s less time to waste.” Friday rush-hour torture becomes a thing of the past. The breeze of running errands in the middle of a weekday becomes a reality.
On the flipside, 9- or 10-hour days Monday–Thursday may become the norm in order to meet performance expectations (at least at first). This cuts into weeknight activities and may lead to fatigue and burnout. For customer-focused operations, like a call center open 7 days a week, employees will need to take extra time to ensure all shifts are covered.
Netflix, Virgin Group, Zynga, and Groupon are just a few of the major companies who have a “non-policy” for vacation time. Unlimited time off communicates trust to staff, and when staff are trusted, they feel empowered. Employees are encouraged to “take what they need” in terms of days off and not track it – just make sure expectations are met.
It’s understandable that unlimited vacation sounds too good to be true. What keeps staff from taking vacation every day? In order for this policy to succeed, employees need to be dedicated to company goals and have clear performance expectations. This policy can very easily be abused, so having the right team in place with a high sense of personal accountability is essential.
WorldatWork— Survey on Workplace Flexibility 2013
NorthCoast99— Flexible Work: Trends & Best Practices
Jason Fried— Be More Productive. Take Time Off.
Results Only, LLC— About the ROWE™ System