Making Flexible Work Models Work
- Bridget Caswell and Jennifer Dama
Necessity has proved to be the mother of invention when it comes to adopting alternative work models. What many employers originally anticipated to be a brief sojourn into flexible work is now going on two-plus years. Despite the lack of strategic planning put into the mass transition to remote work, a good percentage of employees across multiple sectors remains in some type of flexible work arrangement at least part of the time.
To the surprise of many, the great experiment of flexible work has not hampered productivity; it’s actually increased productivity in some cases and yielded additional benefits for both employers and employees. Have innovative working models ushered in the possible end of the traditional day at the office?
Expectations for balancing work with other life obligations have evolved since the onset of COVID because people now know what’s possible. Employees appreciate the flexibility to take care of personal appointments and errands during the day, spend time with family, and focus on caregiving responsibilities when it matters most. Not having to commute to the office, as well as being able to work when and where they are most productive, has improved employee efficiency and provided opportunities for increased quantity and quality of work output.
Having seen that the grass is greener on the other side, many employees now want — and even expect — a degree of flexibility in their working lives. One survey showed that more than 50% of employees who can work remotely all or most of the time want to do so for the foreseeable future. Another found that about half of all workers are likely to seek other job opportunities if not given flexibility in their work schedules and locales. The Great Resignation has certainly proven this to be true.
Organizations that want to meet expectations and remain competitive in attracting talent and retaining a high-performing workforce must continue to evolve their employee experience. Adjusting to flexible work arrangements does require some innovation and upfront planning, but employers can gain a lot from the investment. Eliminating geographic requirements from job positions can widely expand available talent pools to include candidates in other locations and those with varying transportation access and physical mobility.
Flexible arrangements can improve work satisfaction and lead to improved retention for employers. As referenced above, studies have shown that remote work does not inherently erode productivity and may even improve it to some degree. By offering flexible options, employers can also save on costs associated with office space/overhead, attrition and relocations. (There are, of course, a number of good reasons to have employees together in an office at least some of the time — and they are why many employers are moving toward hybrid and “flexible-first” approaches.)
Study results and data from our book of business demonstrate that flexible work can reduce employee absence. If an employee is able to work from home (even occasionally), they can, for example, remain productive while their home is undergoing repairs, rather than taking PTO or other type of leave. Those who can complete their duties outside of traditional business hours without sacrificing productivity and business needs may be able to avoid lost work time for a doctor’s appointment or if their child’s school dismisses early. However, there must be a balance between meeting employees’ individual needs and the work imperatives of the organization.
making it work
Employers seeking to reap the benefits of flexible work models are encouraged to explore feasible options for their industry. While desk jobs in fields like financial and professional services naturally lend themselves to remote work and online collaboration, other sectors learned new ways of working during the pandemic. Healthcare adopted virtual appointments, the legal profession adapted to court appearances on Zoom and electronic signatures, hotels experimented with alternative schedules to help working parents, and fast-food chains adopted mobile app ordering and virtual drive-thru staffing. Even claims professionals got on board with remote field adjusting when they couldn’t safely travel to loss sites. With a little creativity, employers can develop opportunities for flexibility that support employees and are good for the organization.
Throughout the development and implementation process, it’s important to engage and listen to employees. Asking what’s most important to them and best fits their needs can help an organization identify solutions that are amenable to all parties. Some employee populations prefer working from home or on a hybrid schedule, while others want flex time (choosing their own hours), split shifts (with an extended break in the middle of the day) or a compressed schedule of fewer but longer days (such as four 10-hour days per week). It may not be realistic to offer all of these options, but many organizations can implement at least one among certain employee groups without jeopardizing operational effectiveness.
Here at Sedgwick, many of our teams are implementing a flexible-first workplace. It’s a business-led approach that provides options enabling us to continue meeting client needs and maintain a clear focus on performance and results while also offering flexibility that supports colleagues’ needs. Going flexible-first joins our business imperatives with individualized work arrangements that are mutually agreed upon by colleagues and their leadership. Drawing on our caring accounts philosophy, we are committed to trusting, empowering and supporting colleagues in achieving our desired business outcomes, while fostering a colleague experience founded on well-being, connectedness and growth.
Ideally, flexible work models should be a mutual partnership between employers and their employees that enable both to enjoy multiple benefits and perform at their very best.
By Bridget Caswell and Jennifer Dama
Courtesy of Sedgwick
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