CEOs See Benefit in Embracing Nontraditional Work Arrangements

Help flex workers overcome stigma of working at home and feel more integrated into the workplace

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright June 1, 2018
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Chief executives say allowing employees greater flexibility over their schedules improves recruitment and engagement and reduces turnover. In fact, at two out of five organizations participating in the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) most recent Employee Benefits survey, respondents said, offering more-flexible work arrangements—such as telecommuting (62 percent) and variable schedules (57 percent)—was one of the most effective recruiting strategies.

However, new research has found that one of the largest barriers to employees taking advantage of flexible work schedules is their belief that it will impede their career advancement—especially for women. Antiquated attitudes and cultures that perpetuate "a stigma" around flexibility—that people aren't being productive—aren't helpful either, say employees.

"It's clear that even when business leaders want to accommodate the flexible working needs of their employees—and even encourage [flexibility]—there is a gap between what is said at the top and how that translates to everyday working life," according to A Manifesto for Change, a survey report released in May  by researchers at Deloitte and Timewise, a U.K.-based advocacy group for workplace flexibility.

Seventy-three percent of workers responding to the Manifesto survey say they want a culture where people are judged on the work they do rather than the hours they put in; 70 percent say managers need to truly support their team to achieve work/life balance; 25 percent say they are given access to fewer opportunities when they take advantage of flexible scheduling options; and 17 percent believe that working flexibly would prevent them from progressing.

For workplace flexibility to succeed, "CEOs and leaders must be seen to champion flexible working, as they are the ones who set the cultural tone of the organization," reports the new survey of 2,000 U.K. adults.

Flexibility in Action

At his software company in Pleasanton, Calif., OpenVPN CEO Francis Dinha said turnover is low "because of the flexibility and autonomy we give our workers.

"As collaboration and security tools continue to improve, it will become less imperative that a company has all of its employees working under one roof," he said.

OpenVPN, which helps make flexible work possible by creating virtual private networks for its clients, has employees in California, Ukraine, Finland, Norway and Hong Kong. "Despite the different physical locations of our teams, we've successfully structured our organization so that we are able to communicate across project teams whose employees aren't in the same location."

Dinha said the number of flexible and other nontraditional work arrangements will continue to rise because the benefits to companies are too numerous to ignore. "Companies want happy, skilled employees. And as competition for these workers continues to increase, so too will the practice of offering them desirable benefits like flexible work options," Dinha added.

OpenVPN may be the exception, however, as 54 percent of those surveyed in the Manifesto said the biggest impediments to flexible working were obsolete workplace cultures and old-fashioned attitudes. More than 30 percent of employees who opt for flexible hours feel they now have less status and importance, and 25 percent said they missed professional opportunities because of their flexible work schedules.

"The biggest challenge is dinosaur managers," Keith Howells, chairman of the U.K.-based global engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald, told the survey's authors. "Why can't we trust people to do what they are supposed to do because that is what it comes back to."

Flexibility Improves Recruitment, Retention

"One of the main benefits of having a remote workforce is that your company is able to find the best talent possible," Dinha said. "In the tech industry, it's becoming increasingly difficult to compete with big players for skilled employees. Expanding your recruiting pool … across the nation and internationally, opens the door to countless prospective employees with the skill sets you're looking for."

At interactive employee benefits software company Jellyvision in Chicago, employee retention is high because "of our attitude toward flexibility," said Kelly Dean, the company's vice president of people. Work "doesn't always fit neatly into a nine-to-five framework," so employers shouldn't expect employees' lives "to fit neatly outside the nine-to-five."

She said, "Employees appreciate both the practicality of having time for child care responsibilities and outside-of-work interests and the abstract benefit of being respected and trusted by their employer. It's a win-win."

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