An employer asks us about the pitfalls of not offering flexible work in today’s job market:

I am a manager at a large reputable company, often recognized as an employer of choice. We have wonderful staff and often attract top talent from across the country. However, we are very traditional in many ways. Our employees are expected to work in the office at their set hours, with no opportunity for flexible work (at any level). While this hasn’t been a problem in the past, I’m starting to notice more and more job applicants ask about flexible work arrangements.

I, and others in the management team, know we should be more open-minded but our traditional workplace culture is so ingrained, we’re not sure what to do. Will our failure to offer flexible work severely limit the talent we can attract? We’re not necessarily a ‘big brother’ type of workplace, but there is definitely a concern that if we offer flexible hours or telecommuting, that performance may slip.

The short answer: Yes, it is going to limit the number of top performers you’ll attract.

Flexible work arrangements have been a hot topic the last few months; we all heard the controversy over Marissa Mayer banning Yahoo employees from working from home. And as you’re experiencing, workforce expectations are changing.

A lot of workers now expect companies to be open to the conversation of flexible working. And this isn’t just a Gen Y issue, all generations value flexible work benefits. It’s a major hiring trend at the moment, and it’s great that your management team is conscious of being open to flexible work, even if you aren’t ready to implement it.

But this isn’t just going to JUST affect the type of people you attract; flexible work environments have many other positive effects on business. According to the Telework Research Network, if a company allows 100 workers to work from home half the time, it can save $1.1 million a year by cutting costs with real estate, building maintenance, security, furniture and other office expenses.

Sure it’s a great cost-saver, but what about performance you ask?

Well, Telus may be able to answer that one. The telecom giant recently shared that its Work Styles flexible work program not only reduced their real estate footprint by over one million square feet, it also increased staff productivity and employee engagement.

This is all good news for employees AND business but to address your hesitation to implement such big changes; it’s actually good that you’re hesitant.

The most progressive companies evolve slowly. 

The Telus example above was actually years in the making. It began in 2006 and now, seven years later, around 47 per cent of their workforce works outside the office on any given day. Their goal is to have 70 per cent of its 40,000 people working from home or on a mobile basis at least part-time by 2015.

So, the takeaway here is that your company should consider implementing flexible work into its culture over the next few years if it wants to remain being an ‘employer of choice’. But real change takes time and careful planning.

There are many types of flexible work practices and it means a lot of different things to different people.

  • There are initiatives related to hours – flextime, compressed weeks, part-time
  • There are initiatives related to performance – results-oriented KPIs, earned days off
  • There are initiatives related to workstyles – telecommuting, flexible workspaces, job sharing
  • And finally, there are initiatives related to lifestyle – phased-in retirement, on-site facilities (e.g. day cares, gym, housing)

Consider what kinds of flexible work make sense for your business, and for which employees, and roll it out in a measured timeline. Not all business models can implement flexible working as easily as others; but those who find a way to implement more flexibility into their culture will find themselves winning top talent over their competitors.