Strange as it may seem, workplace flexibility is no longer just a mommy-track thing or a benefit given to employees by a generous business owner.
Just ask BDO, a global accounting and financial services firm, which has saved millions of dollars by loosening up.
Workplace flexibility is a way to cut costs, improve customer service, and retain talented employees you’ve spent money training. It’s a shift in business culture made possible by a perfect storm of e-commerce and globalization; new technology; Baby Boomers and Gen Ys who want to work but not necessarily from 9 to 5; and new customer service expectations.
Fitting these puzzle pieces together creatively makes your business leaner and more competitive, and makes your employees less stressed and more productive.
This isn’t an airy, theoretical concept. Organizations as diverse as BDO, the United Nations, universities, and even the U.S. Navy are interested. But size doesn’t matter. Small businesses and nonprofits should consider the idea as well. It’s a way to spread resources farther and maximize productivity.
First step, look at problems your company may be having, from high health care costs to difficulty responding to customers in a different time zone. Then start talking with employees about how a more flexible workplace could solve those problems.
Flexibility in the work place is a strategic decision, not a costly perk that you give in order to be dubbed family friendly, says Cali Williams Yost, founder of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc. In her 14 years of experience, she’s found that men as well as women, people without children as well as those with families are looking for ways to fit their lives and their work together. Since doing so can also benefit the business, it’s a win-win.
Work/life fit, the concept Yost advocates, is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, such as “everyone can telecommute two days per week.” It’s a collaborative effort, one that depends on management being open to innovative work schedules and employees coming up with realistic schedules that help the business. In other words, you have to talk among yourselves and across departments.
To make those conversations productive and usable, both managers and employees need training in how to develop plans, negotiate the details, evaluate results, and make changes.
Even without a formal, conscious shift by businesses, change will come, Yost says, as more employees ask for flexibility. For those who are ready to ask now, she advises, “Consider your needs and the needs of the business. Then present your plan. That is how you can begin to change the dialog in the organization.”
For business owners, she advises educating yourself on the strategic benefits of flexible schedules. Review the way work is done and focus on ways in which flexibility can help the business solve problems. Then start that conversation with employees.
It’s an exciting concept, a step beyond job-sharing and other ideas that were put forth — and mostly dropped — during the women’s movement. A big part of its potential for success is the realization that workplace flexibility is good for business. Another factor is technology, from collaboration in the cloud to video conferences. And then there’s the geographically expanded market even small businesses serve, courtesy of e-commerce.
A perfect storm, indeed.
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