Interview Part I of II: How the Current State of Workplace Flexibility in Massachusetts is Changing

 

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EBS recently interviewed Managing Principals at Flexwork Global, Karen Kelly & Emily Klein.

Karen Kelly provides expertise in the design, development, and implementation of flex and mobile work programs with a focus on policy and procedure development and program design and management. Emily Klein helps companies achieve success by designing strategic workforce initiatives that strengthen mobility across the enterprise, achieve cost avoidance and build high performance teams.

 

EBS: In what ways has the Massachusetts workplace changed over the past few years when it comes to flexibility and mobility?

KK & EK: A number of factors are impacting the desire for flexibility (flex hours, compressed work week, part-time, etc.) and mobility (any location outside of the office, including home office) in Massachusetts. The unemployment rate hovers around 4% which means companies are continually challenged with recruiting and employees – especially in Boston and even more so in STEM areas.

Gallup’s 2017 report, The State of the American Workplace, shared that 51% of employees would change jobs for one that offers them flexible work and 37% of employees would change jobs for one that offers them flexible working location where they can choose to work off-site full time. If you’re competing for talent, flexibility and mobility is a competitive differentiator.

Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh continue to make it a priority to recruit large corporations to join our local economy. Most recently, Amazon announced they’re coming to the Seaport following the lead of GE. Other companies have flocked toward our tech hub, including iBoss, Reebok, Converse, New Balance and soon Aetna, which means more congestion in an already-difficult commute in this region.

Boston was recently named one of the top 10 US cities with the worst commutes. In one 2013 Boston traffic study, delays along Columbus Avenue in Roxbury, one of the worst corridors in the city, were determined to cumulatively cost drivers more than 174,000 hours per year, and conservatively calculated (at just over $17 per hour) to drain the economy of more than $4 million in revenue. These data points demonstrate a strong business case for workplace flexibility and mobility.

EBS: What do you hear from Massachusetts employers as one of their biggest challenges when it comes to implementing flex and mobile work environments?

KK & EK: Among employers’ many challenges, the biggest one is the level of readiness and acceptance from senior leadership. More than half the world now uses the internet, and with companies investing in cloud storage more than ever, employees can access data from anywhere and on most devices.

Many companies have informal policies that allow employees to work remotely or flexibly, leading to inconsistencies of who is eligible across a company, down to individual teams and lack of parity – two of the biggest concerns with offering flex programs. Senior leaders may turn a blind eye or not know that some employees “occasionally” work remotely, especially if it hasn’t impacted business. Although it may work for one or two special circumstances, many leaders still don’t see the value of offering flex programs to all employees. Many lack trust with the attitude of presenteeism: “If I can’t see them, how do I know they are working?” Flexwork Global works with companies to assess organization readiness through assessments and interviews, identifying and overcoming perceived and process-oriented road blocks to success. As soon as senior leadership gets behind it, implementation becomes so much easier.

In many cases, a formal implementation requires a corporate culture shift within an organization. Helping leaders build core competencies for managers around leading distributed teams, delegation and communication builds trust – a key ingredient for success. Setting parameters and expectations through updated policies and procedures provides a roadmap for leaders to guide and employees to follow. And not surprisingly, the initiative can only be successful if supported from the top down.

EBS: What are the pros and cons of adopting a formal policy around flex and remote work options vs. an informal practice?

KK & EK: There are so many more pros than cons when adopting a formal policy around flex and mobile work. We tend to categorize them by business area.  Let’s look at them:

HR/People Strategy – Talent leaders are often the biggest champions because they know how flexibility and mobility, if done right, can positively impact recruitment and retention, increase employee engagement and satisfaction…and even support corporate wellness programs by way of reducing stress levels through enabling healthier lifestyles. Providing flexibility and mobility is now a requirement to support work-life balance for a multi-generational workforce; it’s not just a working mother’s issue anymore. Though it requires some heavy lifting upfront to implement and then train leaders and employees, the benefits outweigh the extra work ten-fold. And you can’t be nominated as a “Best Places to Work” company if you don’t offer work-life balance options, which is now a requirement for entry.

Information Technology – IT teams can facilitate “work at your fingertips” by providing employee access to the newest and best technologies that support and enable an “always accessible,” mobile-centric workplace. BYOD (bring your own device) practices transform office phone lines into cell phones and email technologies including Good provides access to the current lifeline of communication with customers and colleagues. Cloud storage, chat rooms, instant messaging and video conferencing is the norm. And without a formalized program, employees are left to their own devices and judgment to access company data. This can become an issue when managing wage and hour laws. Do you really want an employee accessing your network on an unsecured wifi network in Starbucks on a Saturday morning?

Finance & Real Estate – Finance teams should be strong advocates for formalized flex policies, as it can result in a positive ROI and can be tied back to administrative cost savings and avoidance. There are real cost savings for retaining talent. Workplace flexibility is considered one of the top requirements for attracting and retaining the best talent, especially as the cost to hire and train increases, and we know it will. There is a business cost to vacant positions or those filled by contingent workers. And happier and healthier employees, over time, impact health insurance costs. Providing mobility results in less 1:1 seating, reducing square footage requirements in real estate.

Real Estate is one of the top company expenses next to staff. Understanding how and where employees want to work and are working enables companies to design and provide innovative and creative spaces to meet employees’ changing needs. If you’ve ever walked around an office and see rows of empty cubicles, you see where the savings can be found. It means you have underutilized space – which means wasted money. Are people crammed into conference rooms needing more collaborative workspaces, or working from home, not needing a space at all? Informal programs allow employees to be assigned a desk, whether they plan on using it every day or not. Formalizing these programs identifies where and when employees will be working, which enables better use of a more functional space.

Also, formalized flex and mobile work programs with clearly outlined policies and procedures act as a roadmap for employees working remotely. This proper guidance can minimize costly mistakes to your bottom line such as the risk of a workers comp. claim or a security breach, both of which are more likely with employees in informal arrangements.

EBS: What do you think is the biggest missed opportunity for organizations who don’t embrace flex and mobile work environments?

KK & EK: Let’s face it, flex and mobile work is here and here to stay. Yahoo and IBM won’t prohibit flex and mobile work forever if they want to compete for the best talent. Calling all remote workers back in-house like they did is often a knee-jerk reaction to underlying corporate issues that connect to performance and organizational culture – and doing so mitigates trust and hurts employee engagement. It’s the type of move that sets companies back.

We have technology to thank for this monumental shift in employee demand for workplace flexibility. Employers who embrace it, embed it into their corporate culture’s DNA and continue to think creatively about how to offer it will not only win over the best and the brightest talent, but they’ll have expansive opportunities to save money and reduce healthcare costs.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to offering flex and mobile programs?

photo credits

 

Flexwork Global partners with companies to transform how and where people work by bringing innovative thinking and best practices to meet the needs of a growing mobile workforce. Their products and services help companies design, implement and manage a flexible work strategy and workforce around four pillars of workplace transformation: strategy, policy, training and engagement.

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