Workplace Flexibility? Excellent business choice

August 4, 20142:50 pm879 views

Workplace flexibility attracts talent, boosts productivity and both enhances and maintains job satisfaction, through the diversification of work options available.

Startup ventures and Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) report that in the sphere of workforce management processes, their biggest pain point is attracting, selecting and hiring quality talent. An effective and affordable solution to this difficult problem is simple – offer candidates something they value and can benefit from immensely–flexible work options.

A Cornell University study found that organisations which granted employees the choice of when and where to work — control of their own work process — had one-third the turnover rate when compared with firms that didn’t offer comparable flexible work options.

Rather than managing people, it eases administrative overheads and managerial workloads by focusing on managing their work.

There is an extremely compelling case for businesses to consider adoption flexible workplaces, especially given the automation, outsourcing and remote working tools available to the modern professional in their workplace. For example, research at Stanford University found that working remotely (i.e. telecommuting) boosted productivity.

But the reality remains that while business and management academicians, organisational psychologists and HR professionals espouse the value of flexible work arrangements, with the trend of those firms adopting them increasing, few companies have official policies or programs. And this is especially notable in Singapore and other Asian nations.

Few managers are open-minded or equipped to handle and manage employees with alternative schedules. But this doesn’t mean HR managers and employers should give up on the idea of work flexibility — it falls on HR practitioners to propose a way in which flexible work options benefit their organisation, senior management and the strategic aims of the company.

Luckily for them, the evidence is in their favour. To practice flexible work required appropriate framing and persuasion.

What Experts Say

Before pursuing a flexible schedule, recognise that long-held conventions are being disrupted by you, especially in an Asian context. Time and office presence is often used as a measure of commitment and performance.

Rather than work outcomes and results, as in sales, Asian managers adhere to a factory-type mindset where they prefer to manage people in the office.

Traditionally, managers were reluctant to have people work remotely because of lack of trust: Are you really working or are you eating bonbons with your friend?” explains Stewart D. Friedman, a Professor of Management at the Wharton School, and the founding director of the Wharton School’s Leadership Program and Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project.

Even bosses who trust their employees worry about being seen as practising favouritism, or allowing productivity to decline.

Regardless, more managers and organisations are seeing the benefits of non-traditional schedules. Research from Lotte Bailyn, professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and co-author of Beyond Work-Family Balance: Advancing Gender Equity and Workplace Performance, shows that when people are given the required flexibility, the following occurs:

  • Increased morale
  • Higher frequency of OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) being achieved
  • Decreased absenteeism and tardiness

See: Research Insight: Flexible Working & Intensified Work

Communication

Skype, instant messaging, texting, Google Hangouts, Facebook, LINE and Slack are amongst the wide variety of communication tools available to modern businesses. The whole idea of the “water-cooler conversation” is outdated, with the water cooler being virtual. With Skype and text, people are moving ideas around at the speed of electrons.

This ease of conversation, combined with the clarity of text and ability to send files, graphics and presentations to illustrate points helps to remove ambiguity. However, basic relationship building still requires a degree of human interaction, such as through voice conversations and physical interaction.

Social Interaction

Flexibility creates distance with people in the workplace, allowing for more detached and professional relationships, without necessarily adding a personal dimension to the work relationship. Colleagues are still colleagues, but they don’t have to be friends. People are naturally social, but because colleagues aren’t forced together to interact everyday, relationships with co-workers actually improve due to the distance and boundaries of the relationship.

Entering the office every day, people are bound to meet and develop a rapport with some colleagues but face friction in their relationship with others. The flow of people and the natural conversation arising from office interactions can also result in workflows being interrupted.When workers have the ability to interface with colleagues on their own terms, a better rapport and appropriate boundaries are established.

Image Credit: Infographic courtesy of Column Five and Plantronics.

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