In 2009, Dell envisioned a future centered on workplace culture to attract and retain the best employees. The company had several goals: allow employees to work where they feel comfortable and productive, reduce the barriers around attracting talent, and leave a lower footprint on the world. To tackle these cultural challenges, Dell launched the first version of its workplace flexibility initiative called the Connected Workplace.
The Connected Workplace—which continues to this day—empowers eligible employees to choose where and how they want to work. Employees could work half remotely and half in-office, fully remotely, or any kind of flexible arrangement that they choose. If they wanted, they could even work from other countries as long as they excelled at their jobs.
Dell’s initiative paid off big time. The company saw a major rise in employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention, while maximizing office space usage and reducing their company’s carbon footprint. Overall, the initiative was a huge cultural change in the right direction, and likely helped Dell earn spots on Fortune’s Best Places to Work 2020 (25 years running) and Flexjobs’ 100 Top Companies with Remote Jobs in 2020.
Work flexibility drives better business outcomes
When Dell launched the Connected Workplace program, its HR leadership knew that flexibility was the future of workplace culture. As early as the late 90s, experts predicted that work flexibility would be a huge priority for Millennials and Gen Z workers. The idea was that technology, the internet, and evolving generational attitudes would cause organizations to shift their approaches toward work culture and employee experience. Organizations that honed in on flexibility would rise to the top, while those that resisted change would fall behind.
In many ways, those predictions were right. Studies show that most employees want flexible work arrangements, with 30% even leaving their jobs in favor of companies that offer flexible schedules. At the same time, the traditional nine-to-five schedule is increasingly becoming a relic of the past. Employees are working at different hours, both to align with colleagues across the globe and to achieve better work-life balances.
Workplace flexibility can produce tremendous advantages for employers too. A Gallup study found that organizations that offer job flexibility show 41% lower absenteeism, 40% fewer quality defects, and 21% higher profitability compared to those that don’t. Eighty percent of employees would also remain loyal to their employers with flexible work options, saving organizations thousands in turnover and retention costs.
Organizations have to weave flexible work arrangements into their unique business needs. Luckily, there are several forms of flexible work employers can offer. Here are a few to consider:
1. Partial work from home
Many employees dream of the luxury of permanently working from home (see: Forget Work From Home. Long Live Work From Anywhere), but the reality is that many departments and companies need employees in the office. From data managers to hardware designers and lab assemblers, some roles require working with products that workers simply can’t take home from the office.
Many organizations, if not most, have adopted partial work from home where employees work in the office three to four days a week and spend the rest working remotely. Employees could finish essential office work such as meetings early in the week and other tasks left for remote work. According to Global Workplace Analytics, over 90% of respondents support a partial work-from-home policy, with two to three days being the sweet spot to balance home and office work.
2. Fully remote/work from anywhere
In May of this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced that most of Facebook’s 48,000 employees would eventually be eligible to work from anywhere in exchange for a pay adjustment. Although not a novel concept, Facebook’s announcement certainly gave remote work the national attention it deserves, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown.
By offering fully remote work, organizations allow employees to live and work from anywhere. Whether it’s a city several states away or on a completely different continent, employees can choose where and when they accomplish their best work. This also frees employers from geographical restrictions and gives them access to a global talent pool.
3. Extra or unlimited PTO
One of the biggest challenges of modern work is limited time off. Employees can have multiple reasons to need extended time off but not have enough sick hours or vacation days (entry employees only receive 10 days a year) to make them happen. This forces employees to strategize their time off for vacations or holidays, often leading to employee burnout.
If employees can fully catch up on work, extended time off can be an excellent flexibility perk. Employees can take the time they need to recharge and return to work refreshed and more productive than before. Be careful, however, of discouraging employees from taking time off—a sentiment expressed by many skeptics. Encourage employees to take as much time off as they need as long they accomplish their tasks.
4. Customized work hours
This type of flexibility involves allowing employees to alter their schedules to better suit their needs. For example, commuters spend an average of 54 hours a year stuck in traffic, with commuters in Los Angeles spending 119 hours a year. Also, many workers have childcare obligations in the morning or afternoon.
Managers can allow employees to dictate their own work schedules and leave accordingly. Employees who live further from the office can easily commute after rush hour, saving them from soul-crushing traffic or tightly-packed metro lines. Employees can also work part of their days from home if they prefer.
5. Compressed workweek
Compressing a five-day workweek into four can be tricky to implement, but also rewarding. Employees could have 10-hour workdays four days a week, with a three-day weekend every week to focus on their personal pursuits. Three-day weekends can significantly reduce stress and burnout while increasing happiness and productivity at work. In fact, many organizations are already testing it out.
Communications technology enables work flexibility
Choosing the right flexible work arrangements can be daunting, but a methodical approach can yield amazing results for employers. Chances are some departments and managers already have informal flexible policies in practice, but the organization doesn’t have a cohesive strategy in place yet. Consider working with leaders to narrow down the right arrangements for teams in the organization and create an implementation plan.
Remember that flexible work implementation doesn’t have to happen overnight, nor is it a one-size-fits-all. Take the time to evaluate business needs, employee schedules, and technology and IT needs to make sure your flexible work policy sees a return on investment.
Flexible work can only happen with the right technology. Employees need the right tools to communicate and collaborate whether they work partially from home or completely remotely. Unified communications solutions combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform, allowing workers to collaborate effectively from any location and on any device. Workers can switch between modes of communication with a single click, as well as access shared files, message histories, and video calls all under one roof.
Thinking of implementing flexible work? Check out the tools you’ll need in our post, “7 Essential Tools for Successful Remote Employees.”
Originally published May 29, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023