While work flexibility is a clear desire of most workers, creating a truly flexible corporate culture requires lots of preplanning, and it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all policy.

In my previous blog, I talked about the Next Generation Workplace and defined it as an environment that enables an agile user experience by fostering productivity, efficiency and optimal growth potential. Today, I’d like to explore one of the key components of this environment — flexibility — why work flexibility is important and how savvy companies can achieve it.

Earlier this year, CareerArc, a global recruitment and outplacement firm, announced the results of their “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study.” Following a national survey of 1,203 professionals, including 116 HR professionals, 67% of HR professionals reported that their employees have a balanced work-life, yet nearly half (45%) of employees indicated that they do not have enough time each week to do personal activities. Moreover, 20% of employees surveyed reported spending more than 20 hours per week working outside of the office during their personal time — a clear indicator of work-life unbalance.

Inflexible work environments contribute to a number of negative outcomes, including spillover, which occurs when work-family conflicts begin negatively affecting employees’ morale and work performance. Another negative consequence of inflexible workplaces is a dip in employees’ loyalty toward their employer, which can lead to high turnover. By contrast, flexible work environments not only help minimize many of the negative outcomes mentioned earlier, they contribute to employees’ overall quality of life, according to a FlexJobs study. In fact, of the 2,600 participants surveyed in the study, 97% indicated that a job with a flexible work schedule would make a significant impact on the quality of their lives.

Creating a Flexible Work Environment That’s a Win-Win
Like many corporate shifts in culture that are broad based, implementing policies that meet employees’ and employers’ needs is much more complicated. This was evidenced by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision, who made news when she reversed Yahoo’s policy of allowing employees to work from home.

Some of the potential barriers employers must address on the business side include concerns about equal treatment among employees, the potential impact on client relationships, the effect on internal staff relationships and even the costs and concerns associated with abuse of flexibility policies.

Determining which types of flexibility are appropriate for the workplace is a good starting point. Business leaders need to consider their company’s unique needs and ask themselves questions such as:

  • Is it necessary that every worker be physically present during a certain day each week or a certain period each day?
  • Would it be possible to do particular jobs off-site some days using video-enabled collaboration tools (e.g. Skype for Business or other platforms)? If not, can earlier starting hours or later closing hours be considered?
  • Can teams adequately cover for one member’s temporary absence?
  • What types of flexibility would attract and maintain the right talent?

The biggest challenge to implementing flexibility in the workplace often comes down to culture and management. Work environments that place a premium on a “first-in, last-out” culture may make employees reluctant to ask for flexibility. Additionally, managers who perceive flexible work hours as a drawback, who aren’t aware of the policies, or who don’t feel equipped to manage flexible teams will most likely resist changes. For an effective change to occur, it needs to start at the top with the business owners and be communicated consistently throughout the organization, including other senior and mid management, human resources, and all levels of staff.

The nice thing about workplace flexibility is that there are many ways to adapt it to meet the needs of the company and the workforce. For larger organizations, instituting flexibility on a trial basis or starting with one department could be helpful for identifying the right balance and determining the best policies.

Balancing flexible work schedules and managing telecommuters can present new challenges, but when you weigh the potential benefits, it can be well worth the effort. In fact, aside from a boost in pay, there’s probably no better way to show employees how much you value their service and long-term happiness.

In my next blog, I’ll touch upon the role of the technology ecosystem in the Next Generation Workplace and show how although technology should not be the sole focus of a successful business environment, it plays an integral role in achieving real collaboration, productivity, and workplace flexibility.