Though New York didn’t get nearly as much snow as we predicted with winter storm Juno earlier this week, businesses across the city closed their doors and told their employees to work from home. A decade ago, this type of storm would have had a significant effect on the productivity of many companies, but with today’s technology-enabled workplace, most companies likely felt very little impact.
It’s times like this when the true value of workplace flexibility becomes clear. According to the Families and Work Institute, 38 percent of employers allow people to work from home on a regular basis, up 23 percent from six years ago.
Work-life balance and the need for flexibility used to be something that we exclusively associated with working mothers, but this is no longer the case. Flexibility during times of unforeseen circumstances—bad weather, last minute family commitments, unpredictable public transit—or even realities of everyday life—broken down cars, sick children—just makes business sense.
First, flextime (and flexible working arrangements) leads to better retention of talent. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 89 percent of companies reported that offering employees flexible work schedules improved employee retention. A flexible schedule is an intangible benefit that has concrete value, and one that employees are often reluctant to give up.
Flexible working arrangements can also improve employee performance and increase productivity. In their global study of the value of flexible schedules in the workplace, Regus found that 72 percent of businesses saw increased productivity after implementing flexible working policies, and both small and large businesses agree that they generate more revenue as a result of flexible working arrangements.
But employers’ definition of flexibility should be, well, flexible. What works for one company’s employees may not work for another. Employers might adjust schedules for your slower season—the holidays, summer, etc. Or they might allow employees with school-aged children to align their schedules with the school day. To maintain and facilitate collaboration and teamwork, employers may choose to allow all employees to work from home as they choose, but require all employees to be present in the office on one designated “all hands” day each month. It’s important to tailor flexible working conditions for the needs of a company’s unique employee base.
While I hope the remainder of the winter season won’t test our limits, the bottom line is that workplace flexibility can no longer be considered a perk or a reward—a necessary evil—that employers dole out to appease their staff. Flexibility is a mission-critical component of the most successful company’s workplace cultures.