A decade ago, a good friend of mine passed up an excellent job offer because it was office based on the other side of the city, resulting in a commute that would have been 90 minutes each way. With two young children, he had to make a tough call and prioritize. It was also true his current employer, a global technology company, also provided him with a key factor in his decision-making: flexible working terms.
Flexible hours and the ability to work from home part of the time has meant a lot to many workers, going back more than a decade. In this case, work flexibility alone trumped salary benefits or title advances and led my friend to stay (happily) with his current employer.
Flexible working terms have almost become the “new normal” for many employers and employees. In fact, many countries are legislating flexible work to some degree to allow for child care and elder care among working families. But many companies – sometimes for good business reasons and sometimes for not so good reasons do not provide flexible working terms for their employees.
Unify research shows that employers that don’t provide flexible working should take notice: More than one in three employees would change companies if offered more flexibility, including over one-third of all directors and managers.
What does “one in three” mean in terms of financial impact?
Dun and Bradstreet research has found that the total cost of replacing an experienced employee can be up to 150 percent of annual salary (taking into account recruiting, training, lost productivity and other indirect costs), depending on the job role. The typical cost to employers of a bad hiring decision is an incremental 30 percent of annual compensation, according to U.S. Department of Labor findings. Additionally, simply attracting new employees to your company may be more difficult when prospects see a lack of work flexibility.
What does flexible work mean in terms of employee preferences, satisfaction and retention?
Previous Unify research found that over half of all senior managers (director and higher) say their organization is moving in the direction of more flexible work and expect to be there in the next two years. In addition, over one-third of senior managers acknowledge that current management beliefs and corporate culture are key obstacles to making it happen. One-third of employees also say they would drive an initiative to make flexible work a reality in their organization.
Taking these data into consideration, it may be time to reflect on how your organization is positioned to attract and retain the most valuable employees. It may be a difficult bridge to cross for companies that are used to seeing everyone in the office at the same time, every workday. But the flexible work imperative is here to stay, so adapting will likely show up on your organization’s agenda (or ignored at its peril).
Here are three simple steps your company can take to begin the process of being more flexible:
1. Assess current job roles, employees and processes for compatibility with flexible work, even if on a pilot or departmental basis.
Often, many team members would value the option to work remotely one or two days per week. If they plan ahead, managers can harmonize this schedule with project goals and the need for face-to-face interaction. A key point here is for managers to determine when there is a real business need for having employees in the traditional office, instead of the cultural inertia of the status quo.
2. Learn about the engagement rules and best practices that help distributed and virtual teams thrive.
New skills, behaviors and expectations need to take hold to collapse virtual distance and encourage dialogue, trust and candor. For team leaders and managers, proactively engaging and building rapport with remote employees helps, as does encouraging (and expecting) active input and participation from everyone on a team, regardless of location. It is also a matter of clearly defining roles and performance in terms of outcomes, deliverables and timelines so that measurable results speak for themselves.
3. Provide rich collaboration tools that help team members engage, regardless of their location or work device.
Today’s audio and video conferencing, messaging, and content-sharing tools can be almost as good as meeting in person. Teams can now subscribe to a pay-as-you-go, cloud-based collaboration platform without needing a complex and expensive IT project. Many cloud-based services provide “freemium” offers, meaning you can sample and use most (if not all) of the collaboration technologies on a trial basis without a major financial commitment.
With these points in mind, your company can attract, retain and engage your employees today and avoid an expensive flight risk in the future.