Why I'm an Advocate of Flexible Work Arrangements
Flexible work arrangements are gaining traction, and I’m a big fan. However, in today’s world where technology is so prevalent, it’s surprising that such arrangements aren’t more popular.
One of the reasons I think flexible work arrangements haven’t gained as prevalent as they could is that there are misconceptions as to what flexible work actually entails. People tend to conjure images of people working in their pajamas 5 days a week, but in fact it’s much more than that. Companies and their employees have the leeway to design flexible work options that are suitable for them.
Examples include, but aren’t limited to:
· Flex hours I.e. Encouraging employees to work outside of the traditional 9 to 5 hours to (a) take advantage of off-peak commuting; (b) allow employees flexibility to take care of family matters; (c) let employees work when they are most productive. Employees might opt to start early and leave early or, alternatively, start later and end their work day later.
· Allowing employees to work remotely 1 or more days per week.
Essentially, it’s about giving employees the freedom to do their work when and where they are most productive. Above all, it’s about valuing outputs over “presenteeism.”
From a personal perspective, there are two big reasons why I’m advocating for flexible work. First, I currently have an hour-long commute, which becomes draining day after day. Some days, I arrive only to sit at my computer and communicate with my colleagues and clients solely online (others days, of course, we do have proper, face-to-face interaction!). Being able to take advantage of a flexible work arrangement from time to time would allow me to wrap up work at 5 pm and jump right into family time, whereas being physically present in the office I don’t make it home until after 6 pm day after day.
As our family starts to grow, this issue has been on my mind more and more. Instead of being gone from 7:30 am to 6 pm, flexible work options would allow me to get my kids off to school and be home at night to do the dinner and bath time routine, attend my kids’ activities, and help with homework. Then, when the kids are in bed, I’d spend a couple more hours wrapping up work for the day. Of course, we’d still require child care in order for me to get my work done, but having the flexibility to take care of career and family obligations is so important.
In addition to benefits for employees, there are benefits to corporations, as well as society as a whole. According to WorkSHIFT:
· Productivity increases. “In forcing employees to work when we can physically watch them, we’re limiting their ability to perform at their best. According to the WorldatWork report, 65% of Canadian businesses that offer flexible work reported increased productivity.”
· Absenteeism is reduced. On average, Canadians are absent from the workplace 3.6 days each year for personal reasons, costing employers $2,000 per employee on an annual basis. Flexible work options can reduce absenteeism because employees are more engaged in their work and are able to handle personal appointments and minor illnesses without taking a full day off work.
· Talent attraction and retention. Employees are multi-faceted human beings with lives outside of work. By giving employees the flexibility to manage work and life they stay in their jobs longer. For example, “82% of Canadians said they would be willing to change jobs for the opportunity to work from home, 22% would take a pay cut and 59% would be willing to use their own resources to support remote work.”
· Environmental benefits. By allowing work to happen anywhere, non-essential commutes are eliminated, thereby also reducing traffic congestion and tail pipe emissions.
· Cost savings for employers. Employers can save money on rent when they allow employees to job share or work remotely occasionally because they require less physical office space.
I understand it’s not a perfect system. For one, it’s not possible for all industries to offer flexible work arrangements. Doctors, teachers, and tradespeople are just a few examples of professions that require workers to be physically present in the workplace. However, for those of us for whom it is possible to take advantage of flexible work arrangements, and there are a slew of benefits.
Secondly, there will always be workers who abuse the system. However, my counter argument is that there are already people who abuse the current system as well. From spending an excessive amount of company time on personal tasks to chatting a little too frequently at the water cooler, simply because an employee is physically present in the office does not ensure productivity. WorkSHIFT Canada found that, while in the office, people spend less than 50% of the workday at their desk, which drives home the point. I’d go so far as to say that I personally am more attentive and mindful of my productivity when I’m working remotely because I want to demonstrate that I’m reliable. From a corporate perspective, it comes down to how much you trust your employees. If you don’t trust them, you probably shouldn’t have them as employees in the first place, whether flexible work options are on the table or not.
The bottom line is that we have the technical tools to make flexible work happen, and research supports the case for flexible work. I, for one, am committed to making it happen.