Make a Case for Workplace Flex

Overcome resistance to workplace flexibility by making a strong business case with credible research

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jun 26, 2012
ATLANTA—Workplace flexibility has increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and kateListerSml.jpgsaved millions of dollars for organizations such as Best Buy, British Telecom, HP and many others. Yet while more than half of U.S. jobs are compatible with flexible work, less than 3 percent of the workforce works from home two or more days a week—the frequency that research indicates offers the greatest benefits, according to Kate Lister, president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based consultancy Global Workplace Analytics, during her presentation at the 2012 SHRM Annual Conference, held here June 24-27.

For employees, the benefits of flexible work options are well-known and include better work/life balance, lower stress and higher levels of engagement. But management’s initial response tends to be, “How do I know work is going to get done?” To which Lister responds, “If you need to see the backs of your employees’ heads, you’re not managing. You’re babysitting. You really don’t know what’s going on just seeing someone’s head bobbing.” Instead, she recommended results-based management, which evaluates employees on the quality of their work, not on where or when they accomplish their work.

‘If you need to see the backs of your employees’ heads,

you’re not managing. You’re babysitting.’

—Kate Lister, Global Workplace Analytics

A Bottom-Line Case

The way to overcome resistance to workplace flexibility is by making a strong business case with credible research, Lister advised. Demonstrating the bottom-line benefits of flexibility, with tangible statistics, can win support for the idea from the C-suite—and from middle managers who are charged with implementing flex programs but who might do so reluctantly or not at all. Lister showed session attendees an online calculator (described at that can quantify the savings that result from reducing office space, absenteeism and voluntary turnover, and from increasing employee productivity.

Real Estate Savings

Taking real estate savings as an example, the calculations for qualifying annual savings would include:

  • Average square foot per office space per person.
  • Cost per square foot.
  • Average real estate cost per year per person.
  • Percent reduction in office space with workplace flexibility.

Factor in the number of employees likely to work at home if given the opportunity and the number of days per week they’d work remotely, and a dollar figure can be presented to management. Additional savings would include less need for parking lots, transit subsidies, insurance, furniture, equipment/supplies, maintenance, security and janitorial services.

Lower Turnover Rates

Another area of potential savings is decreased turnover, as research shows lower turnover rates when workers have an opportunity to work from home. Calculations for qualifying the bottom-line annual savings would include:

  • Cost of losing an employee as a percent of annual wages.
  • Average voluntary turnover per year (quit rate).
  • Cost of turnover per employee.
  • Percent reduction in voluntary turnover with workplace flexibility.

Work Shift Has Already Occurred

“Work is already mobile; it’s already changed. Management needs to adjust its thinking,” Lister said. A study of Fortune 500 companies by the New Ways of Working network shows that the percentage of employees with assigned workspaces has shrunk to 66 percent—a 10 percent decrease in two years, she noted. “Cubicles were designed for a different kind of workforce and are a huge waste of money and assets that could be used to hire more people. If you have to make a choice between real estate and people, it’s the people you need.”

The “sweet spot” for telecommuting often is two days a week in the office to foster collaboration and three days a week working remotely to boost productivity, Lister said.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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