Can you imagine being asked to select your work style at the same time as you choose your benefits package when starting a new job? Neither can I! However, a new study, Flexible Work: Perceptions & Realities — Findings from the Flexpaths – LinkedIn Virtual Think Tanks December 2010, suggests this seemingly impossible scenario may become a reality. (Take a look at the entire whitepaper, embedded at the end of this post.)
The study was significant because, of the 45 participants in the research groups, 24 were managing directors or CEOs (mostly from companies with 200-700 employees) and 16 were senior Human Resources leaders (mostly from companies with over 1,000 employees).
It’s not surprising to learn that a commonality between all of the companies represented was an array ofÂ cultural obstacles to embracing a truly flexible workplace. Even defining “flexible work” was a challenge. Participants suggested several approaches, including:
- Flexibility Around â€œWhenâ€ â€“ working non-traditional hours and compressed workweeks
- Flexibility Around â€œWhereâ€ â€“ involving telecommuting/telework
- Flexibility Around â€œHow Muchâ€ â€“ inviting workers to share job hours, reducing hours in exchange for less pay, sabbaticals, etc.
- Flexibility Around â€œHowâ€ â€“ incorporating freelance and contract workers
Few of the think tank participants had formal policies to govern flexible work, but a main impetus for making flexibility a part of their plans was “attracting and retaining top talent.” The study notes, “Several (participants) remarked upon how saving even a couple of high performers from leaving had more than paid for their flexible work initiatives.”
Additionally, several CEOs noted they want to attract the best Generation Y talent, which is driving their interest in a flexible workplace. Some saw a shift in their approach to flexibility as being customer service focused and others acknowledged that having flexibility helped engage workers.
A majority of participants expect flexible work arrangements to be an important factor to remaining competitive, suggesting “significant increases in the proportion of their workforces that would be engaging in flexible work” by 2015. Some thought it would be as high as 80% of their workforce, but most predicted around 50% of their employees may take advantage of flexible work options by that time. (Compared to 25% currently.)
No doubt, significant changes will be necessary to achieve those percentages, as participants recognized that flexible work appeals to a lot of workers, butÃ‚Â “employees are afraid that requesting flexible work will jeopardize their career opportunities.”
- Fear of lost control and lack of trust (on the employer’s part)
- Losing a team spirit (if people don’t work face-to-face)
- Legal issues
- Measuring success and rewarding results – how to manage flexible workers without sacrificing quality
(The entire whitepaper is available at the end of this post for your review.)
If a flexible work arrangement appeals to you, here are some tips from Cali Williams Yost, author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit Thatâ€™s Right for You (Riverhead, Penguin Group, 2005):
Three Fool-Proof Tips for Making Flexible Work a Success
Tip 1: Donâ€™t expect your manager to come up with a solution. Start the conversation with him or her by presenting a clear flexibility plan that specifies the:
- Type of flexibility you are proposing
- How the work will get done (not â€œwhyâ€ you want flexibilityâ€”it doesnâ€™t matter)
- How the business will benefit from your plan, and
- When the plan will be reviewing (e.g. initially 90 days; annually thereafter)
Tip 2: Remember that itâ€™s your job to (over) communicate with your boss, your team and your clients.
When you are out-of-sight because either you work from home or work flexible, non-traditional hours, be mindful of consistent accessibility and reliability:
- If you arenâ€™t immediately reachable, make it a priority to check messages regularly and respond in a timely manner.
- Initiate a â€œcheck inâ€ by email, IM or phone once or twice during the day with your team or your manager to see if there is anything you need to be aware of. Most likely there wonâ€™t be, but they will appreciate the extra effort.
- Each week, put together one-page of highlights of accomplishments. In todayâ€™s economy, we should all have a record of what weâ€™ve doneâ€¦not just flex workers! It comes in handy when negotiating for a raise or promotion.
Tip 3: Be flexible with your flexibility.
Nothing causes a manager or a coworker to lose patience with your flexibility faster than a consistent unwillingness to periodically â€œgo the extra mile.â€ If thereâ€™s an unexpected deadline and itâ€™s your time to leave, offer to stay now and then. If youâ€™re scheduled to work from home, offer to come into the office if itâ€™s the only day a client can meet.
Taking the initiative, being conscientious and going the extra mile (from time to time), are small actions that go a long way to making your flexibility work for everyone.
ABOUT FLEXPATHS LLC
FlexPathsÂ® is a leading global provider of web-based software solutions and advisory services that help companies create and leverage a flexible working culture. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
ABOUT CALI WILLIAMS YOST
Cali is the CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexibility strategy consulting firm. In addition to her book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit Thatâ€™s Right for You (Riverhead/Penguin Group, 2005), Yost created the award-winning Work+Life Fit blog, and is an expert blogger for FastCompany.com. You can follow her on Twitter @caliyost.