Flexible Work Increasing as More Employers See Its Benefits
Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor
February 21, 2023
Flexible working arrangements have clearly become a part of the mainstream employment landscape as more and more employees expect it in the post-pandemic working world. Flexibility allows employers to adopt processes and practices that can adapt to the changing needs of the business and its employees.
More than that, flexible work enables an employer to shape and sustain a positive employee experience and drive a human-centric organization. Flexible work offers employees the freedom to accomplish their work in and around their life commitments, with the success of such programs measured by the value of how they support the employer's business and people strategies (e.g., improved retention, higher employee engagement and decreased revenue lost). In addition, flexible work helps create a workplace culture that marks the organization as an employer of choice and attracts candidates to apply for jobs.
Increase in Flexible Work
As pandemic restrictions eased, many employers were eager to bring employees back to the workplace, but met stiff resistance. Employees repeatedly expressed their desires and demands to continue some form of remote or hybrid work. A 2022 LinkedIn study found that more than a third of employees would quit if they had to return to the office full-time. Nearly six out of 10 employees said they would be less productive at work if flexible work policies were scaled back.
Employers are listening. According to the Flexible Work Policies and Practices 2023: XpertHR Survey Report, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic more than half of employers (54%) did not offer remote or hybrid flexible working arrangements to any employees. Since then, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, with only 25% of employers not offering remote work and only 17% of employers not offering hybrid arrangements to any workers. And, although less than one in five employers offer remote work to all of their employees, over half offer some employees either remote or hybrid work opportunities.
Remote and Hybrid Work in 2022
Note: Based on responses from 435 organizations.
Source: XpertHR's Flexible Work Survey 2023.
But flexibility involves more than just remote and hybrid work. In addition, the XpertHR survey found that employers are also offering other flexible work opportunities to employees. The most popular are:
- Flextime, which allows employees to shift the start and end times of their workday according to their needs: 77% of respondents;
- Flexible scheduling, which gives employees control to create their own schedules: 58%; and
- Compressed schedules, in which an employee condenses the same number of work hours into fewer workdays: 50%.
Flexible Work Benefits
Employers understand there are challenges that come with flexible work options, such as maintaining the organizational culture, having a sufficient technological infrastructure and maintaining cybersecurity. But organizations recognize that potential benefits can outweigh the risks. They see the use of flexible work as part of a wider strategy to create an inclusive culture, improve productivity and to attract and retain the best talent.
For instance, 90% of employers indicated in the XpertHR survey that both recruiting talent and increasing retention were important drivers for expanding flexible work arrangements. They also cited the important role that such arrangements have in improving the work-life balance and wellness of employees.
Common Reasons to Increase Flexibility
Note: Based on 427 responses (those who do not provide flexible options excluded). Respondents could select more than one option.
Source: XpertHR's Flexible Work Survey 2023.
A Future Forum survey of more than 10,000 employees late last year found that workers of organizations with flexible work policies - where remote work is welcome and employees have the opportunity to go to an office - were 57% more likely to say their company culture improved over the last two years (compared to fully in-person workers).
The focus on the wellness benefits of flexible work is not limited to just US employers. A Littler survey of European employers revealed that (54%) reported the use of flexible work schedules specifically to help combat employee burnout. Another recent study of four-day work weeks found that none of the employers who provided information to the study plan to go back to their former work schedule, with almost all saying they plan to continue with the four-day work week.
Building the Flexible Work Framework
To gain the maximum benefits of flexible work, senior leaders need to support the changes necessary to the workplace culture. To optimize the effort, employers must establish a framework of ground rules and practices of how the organization will handle flexible working arrangements. These promote consistency by setting clear expectations for employees on the parameters of the organization's flexible work program. In addition, employers should provide appropriate training to managers and employees to ensure success.
Flexible work policy. The first step is creating a flexible working policy and including it in your employee handbook. Such a policy shows how flexible work helps to meet organizational strategic objectives while also laying out the business case. For example, using flexible working initiatives can make the workforce more agile in a rapidly evolving working world and makes the organization's employee value proposition more competitive.
When creating a flexible work policy, gather input from stakeholders to make sure that it is workable and to gain their buy-in for the policy. Potential stakeholders include:
- Senior organization and department leaders; and
- Support services (e.g., technical support and facilities management).
Flexible work practices. The goal of these practices should be to support flexible working throughout the employee journey. Established standards should anchor the flexible work policy to avoid inconsistent practices, which can lead to inequitable working conditions for employees and budgeting issues. At the extreme, such inequities could lead to discrimination claims and lawsuits.
To the extent possible, flexible work should be available to all employees and managers on similar terms and across work locations. Where one type of flexibility is not available to an employee, consider other flexibility options to ensure equity.
Also, establish standardized processes across the organization and communicate these to employees. This may include creating standardized request forms, approval and denial letters, and guides for virtual workplace communication.
Training. Working within a flexible environment may require employees to learn new skills, systems, and processes essential to their success. Training will help ensure maintenance of the organization's systems and structure for supporting successful flexibility. Most importantly, training in flexible work helps to support productivity.
Employee training should include:
- The flexible work strategy, policies and procedures;
- Standards and expectations for flexible working;
- All enabling technology;
- How to collaborate virtually; and
- Flexible working compliance.
Additionally, managers need training specific to managing remote work.
Staying Agile Equals Success
Though flexible work has started to become the norm, it is still evolving to meet new challenges. Organizations should monitor their flexible work practices and measure their success, while remaining open to new approaches. Flexible work policies and practices should provide a level of consistency, but also provide the adaptability needed for managers and teams to modify options to meet individual needs.
By incorporating flexibility into how work gets done, employers achieve better business and talent outcomes while employees enjoy a people-first experience, key ingredients to achieving and maintaining business success.