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The keys to a flex-friendly workplace

Much has been written about the value of flex-friendly workplaces. But are they all they’re cracked up to be? And how can flex-friendly be implemented?

Flex-friendly workplace image

Flex-friendly workplaces have been gaining in popularity over the years, particularly in early stage companies that are trying to appeal to the younger generation. Companies such as Google and Facebook offer onsite bowling alleys, Laundromats and free organic food to attract employees, and – as the cynic in me believes – to also keep them on ‘campus’ for as long as possible each day.

The flex-friendly approach I speak of is, in effect, a practical union of work and life.

The notion that we are required to be at our desk at 8am and not leave until 6 pm aside from a regulated one-hour lunch break seems rather archaic.

It conforms to the flawed management theory that, if my supervisor can see me I must be doing work – despite potentially spending my hours in the presence of my supervisor updating my Facebook status and crushing it on Clash of Clans.

My experience with the flex-friendly approach started at my wife and my company, gDiapers, which we launched 10 years ago. We came to entrepreneurship late, at the age of 34, right when we became parents. To complicate matters, we moved from Sydney, Australia to Portland, Oregon to set up our headquarters, and our team was mostly comprised of new mums. As a result, we decided to rework the workplace by offering subsidised on-site day care, compressed work hours – working 5 days in 4, extended paid maternity leave, and extended paid time off each year. Today gDiapers also has stand-up desks, treadmill desks and occasional FitBit challenges to encourage people to move more each day.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) – the world’s largest human resources association – has identified multiple factors as driving the growing popularity and efficacy in adopting flex-friendly policies, and the results are contrary to popular belief:

  • Firstly, flex-friendly is not primarily driven by women. 45% of men report work-life conflict compared to 37% of women.
  • It’s also not just propelled Gen Y. One in two Gen X employees expect that they will have to provide care for their parents, and one in five already do.
  • In work places where flex-friendly policies are in effect, four times as many employees are highly engaged at work, twice as many employees are in excellent health, and nearly twice as many want to stay in their current jobs.

Research also shows that companies can reduce operating expenses by more than $8000 for every employee who telecommutes just once per week. While more than 80% of employees surveyed said that flex-friendly policies were very important when considering a new job, less than 25% had access to them.

While these policies can then be seen as an employee benefit, the reality is that flex-friendly policies are a business strategy, plain and simple. Flex-friendly policies help to:

  1. Increase performance: SHRM research shows these policies deliver improved productivity, innovation and shareholder value.
  2. Increase engagement: The only thing that beats job satisfaction after economic security is work-life quality.
  3. Improve wellness: Employees who work in a flex friendly organisation sleep better, exercise more, have lower stress and are in better health.
  4. Attract talent: By offering work flex options, the talent pool is widened to include great people regardless of where they live or how they live.
  5. Diversity and inclusion: Companies that offer flexible work arrangements appeal to a broader set of potential employees with a greater variety of skills and interests.
  6. Ensure business continuity: Team members who work remotely can continue to do so during disruptive events such as natural disasters or inclement weather.

10 years on from starting up gDiapers and the above has all proven true. As an example, a key part of our approach is telecommuting. Our US office has a team of 15, and we demand they be at their best rather than their supervisors being able to look over their shoulder at a desk. If being at your best means working from outside the office for periods of time, then so be it. Our only requirement is that our employees attend an all-hands lunch on Thursday and an all-hands meeting on Wednesday.

To service Europe we have a team of six. They are all mums who work from home and meet every second week at coffee shops around London. Meanwhile my wife and I live in Sydney, Australia – the ultimate telecommute. Thanks to Slack as an internal messaging tool – instead of email – and Skype, we can be anywhere in the world and be effective leaders of the company. We choose to be in Sydney as we see it as the city where we are at our best, can deliver maximum value to our shareholders, and embrace a flexible lifestyle.

National Study of the Changing Workforce
2014 National Study of Employers
Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work
SHRM Research Spotlight, 2012
Global Workplace Analytics
Workplace Flexibility in the 21st Century, SHRM

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