It’s time to structure flexibility

It’s time to structure flexibility
There’s a flexibility gap: 80% of companies say they offer some form of flexibility, but only 19% of employees report having access to it. The solution, ironically, is to add more structure to flexibility.

While the workforce has diversified across generations, the way people work hasn’t kept pace. Why do we expect the same office-based 9-5 arrangement to work for the vast majority of us? According to a recent study of 1,583 U.S. white-collar employees commissioned by Werk, 96% of the workforce reports needing some form of flexibility at work and one in two employees indicate they would leave their job for a more flexible alternative. And when employees agree their work schedule is flexible enough for them to meet family and personal responsibilities, 79% report a more positive employee experience.

Although many companies realize the importance of flexibility, there’s a “flexibility stigma” and a lack of clarity, structure, and vocabulary that discourages employees from seeking flexible options when needed.

So what could a framework for flexibility look like? We conducted a meta-analysis of the existing research on flexibility and looked at these fundamental components: where we work, when we work, and how predetermined our schedule is. Once we understood the component parts, we created six distinct types of flexibility:

  1. Remote: “Work from anywhere” - Remote employees keep standard office hours but are location independent. They are not required to be at office headquarters on a regular basis — their office is wherever they are.
  2. DeskPlus: “Partially office-based” - DeskPlus employees keep standard office hours and are partially location independent. DeskPlus can be implemented on an ad-hoc basis or as a set percentage of each work week.
  3. TravelLite: “Minimal travel requirements” - TravelLite employees have minimal to no travel, with a maximum limit of 10% travel annually (max four days per month, or an annual equivalent).
  4. TimeShift: “Standardly unconventional hours” - TimeShift employees reorder their working hours to create a set but unconventional schedule (outside of 9-5 conventions) that optimizes their productivity and performance. TimeShift is not a reduction in time spent, but rather an adjustment of working hours.
  5. MicroAgility: “Freedom to adapt” - MicroAgility employees have the autonomy to step away from their work 1-3 hours at a time to accommodate the unexpected. The ability to make microadjustments to the workday prevents an employee’s personal life from becoming a major work-life disruption.
  6. PartTime: “Reduced workload” - PartTime employees serve in senior-level roles; they have the experience and skills to meet the company objectives on a reduced hours schedule.

Figuring out what types of flexibility programs work best at your organization starts by asking your employees what they need. But it’s not as simple as asking "what do you need/want" because people aren’t always great at knowing what's good for them. Instead, analyze their needs and then map them back to the six flexibility types. Werk does this by asking employees a series of structured questions about what their life is like and capturing their location- and time-based needs. For example, we ask people to indicate whether they’d be more productive if they worked away from the company office from time to time or if they worked Monday to Friday with non-traditional working hours. We also ask people about a range of other topics, including the difficulty of their daily commute and monthly work-related travel. As employees indicate their preferences we use an algorithm to measure the rank order priority of their needs and the magnitude of their needs to diagnose each person’s unique flexibility type.

This data allows companies to build better, smarter policies aimed at the needs of their people rather than one-size-fits-all policies that lack customization. We conducted an analysis to determine the supply and demand for flexibility programs by flexibility type, and it reveals a gap between what people want and what they have access to in the U.S. workforce.

There is a gap between the supply and demand for flexibility programs.

Adding structure around flexibility also allows companies to analyze flexibility data in relation to other key metrics including productivity, engagement, and retention. We’ve seen that when employees report consistent access to flexibility, they’re more likely to be loyal to their employers, with net promoter scores 48 points higher than employees without consistent access to flexibility.

Flexibility is linked to improved organizational performance, personal benefit, and loyalty. So while it may seem counterintuitive, the key to a more flexible future is putting structure in place that enhances access for all.

Annie Dean and Anna Auerbach are the founders and co-CEOs of Werk which strives to close the gap between the flexibility that companies supply and what employees demand. We envision a future where the workforce uses a single, standardized flexibility currency, allowing employees to better articulate what they need and employers to more effectively market what they offer.