If you’re looking for the top job perk to attract and retain the best performers, look no further than flexible working.
Not only are quality employees calling out for more flexible working arrangements, but when employees are permitted to work remotely or according to the schedule that suits them best, employers see significant improvements in morale, engagement, and productivity.
Why do employees care about flexible working?
Flexible working isn’t simply sought after by parents. Employees desire flexible working for a number of options — better work-life balance is only one of many valid grounds.
As our understanding of human psychology has advanced, we have learned that people have different productivity rhythms. Personally, I work from home a great deal and my most productive time is from 6-7 a.m. Mornings are particularly good for focusing on things that require attention to detail or creative thinking, since everyone else is still offline and I’m not interrupted by emails and instant messaging.
While one employee might be efficient between the traditional office hours of 9-5, others might find they get more done before 9 a.m. than they ever could do in the early afternoon. More still might be productive night owls who are capable of achieving great results, but during unsociable hours. Some employees might feel more productive working from home, where they experience fewer distractions and can benefit from certain creature comforts. Others might be caregivers or have frequent medical appointments which require flexibility.
Whatever the case, employers should know that flatly denying flexible opportunities denies you access to high-performing candidates.
Flexible working is a key perk
An overwhelming number of studies, surveys and polls reveal that flexible working is king when it comes to workplace perks.
In one survey, Glassdoor showed that 80% of respondents would pick benefits over a pay raise, and 60% stated that perks were a key contributing factor when it comes to deciding whether or not to accept a job.
Another study by CV Library found that flexible working far outscored other workplace perks, including casual dress codes and seasonal bonuses. Modis also found that 50% of workers favor flexibility as their top job perk, even when compared to unlimited vacation and free childcare. Furthermore, Harvard Business Review reported that 88% of workers feel that the possibility of flexible hours would sway them from a higher-paying job to one that paid less.
Business benefits of flexible working
It isn’t enough for employees to simply want flexible working — companies need to see the business benefits. Fortunately, the evidence points to flexible working having the financial edge on traditional working.
Remote workers are happier and thus more productive than their office-dwelling counterparts, for one. Furthermore, flexible working can seriously boost company loyalty, meaning staff turnover is reduced and recruitment is easier. An openness to flexibility also widens your talent pool. Rather than simply hiring someone because they live in a convenient location, you can hire the best person for the role.
Related: Help Scout's Ultimate Guide to Remote Management Flexibility and telecommuting encourage results-based work, which has a direct impact on productivity. Flex working can also improve engagement, performance and motivation while lowering overhead costs. American Express saved $10 to $15 million annually in real estate costs after implementing a flexible working scheme.
Despite all this, most companies still don’t have formal flexible work policies, and flexibility is rarely offered in job descriptions.
That begs the question…
Why aren’t all companies offering flexible working?
It’s not technology’s fault. Team collaboration software and performance management tools connect people around the world to organize objectives and collaborate remotely.
So what’s standing in the way?
A big contributor is management resistance and — to put it bluntly — a lack of faith in employees. Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School, told The Guardian:
“(Managers will) never say that, but that’s what it’s about. Managers want people in the office because they want to see their little empires there in front of them. It’s totally about trust, and the incompetence of managers who don’t know how to manage people remotely.”
Luke Hughes, Managing Director at Origym, backs up this theory:
“I think many employers are afraid of flexible working. They very frequently do not have the infrastructure in place, both technologically and protocol-wise, that can make it a successful model. Without mechanisms to track objectives and productivity, it creates a fear factor that no work is being completed.”
There also appears to be a simple fear of change. Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families, told HR magazine:
“Part of the problem is we work so hard and so fast, so if someone leaves, the easy thing to do is to replace what you’ve lost with the same thing. If they worked nine to five you find that again so you don’t have to put any thought into it. Flexible hiring requires you to press a pause button and say: ‘Could we do this better? Could we rethink this role?’”
How can modern businesses incorporate flexibility?
Organizational change isn’t easy. It takes time and effort to iron out the wrinkles and fine-tune the details. But in the end, the results will pay off. When transitioning to a flexible working environment, HR executives and managers should keep in mind the following three pillars.
1. Prioritize meaningful, regular communication
As with any organizational change, communication must be prioritized. Employees need to have regular communication with their peers in order to feel part of a team. They also need regular contact with their manager, who will help guide them, keep them on track, and give them much-needed support. A number of online communication tools can help with this.
2. Develop trust
If you enter into flexible working with the assumption your employees will likely betray your trust, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Flexible working — indeed, a successful team and company — requires a foundation of trust.
Remember: you hired these employees for a reason. You believed they had the skills and abilities to perform their jobs well, so you need to trust them to do so. Release the reigns and resist micromanagement at all costs. If employees ultimately show they can’t be trusted, you can then take the necessary steps to turn the situation around.
3. Set clear, SMART objectives
Flexible working will work best if you focus on objective completion rather than hours worked. This will cause less of a headache for management while driving real results.
As such, employees and managers need to collaborate on SMART objectives and employees need to be entirely clear on what they are meant to be doing, how they are meant to be doing it, and when their objectives need to be completed.
As long as managers follow these tips and constantly strive toward a streamlined, effective method of flexible working, they’ll be rewarded with employees who are happier, more loyal, and more productive than ever.