Workplace Flexibility, Part 2: Creativity in the Making

I recently tested readers to find out how many workplace flexibility options you could name off the top of your head. I didn't get anyone willing to share their results, so I'll presume that means the first five I named were so obvious they should have gone without saying.

WorldatWork's recent Trends in Workplace Flexibility Survey shows that, on average, most organizations offer six different types of flexibility. Here's my next pop question: How many does your organization offer? I talked about 5 of them in my previous blog and provided some understanding of who is getting these benefits, and why and how organizations and employees benefit from them. Let's talk about a few more.

Telework, in All Its Various Forms (Monthly, Weekly, Full-time Remote)

We actually asked about telework in four different forms in the survey, and I already talked about the first version in my prior blog -- telework on an ad hoc basis. Next up on the list is telework on a regular, monthly basis (that is, one day a month, but not full time), and telework on a regular weekly basis (at least one day per week, but not full time).

The reason for the distinction between monthly and weekly really is for historical purposes -- 10+ years ago, teleworking on a regular basis was rare, and we saw survey participants more closely associating with a monthly option rather than anything more frequent.

Regardless of whether it's monthly or weekly, teleworking either way is practically identical in terms of organizations offering this option. It appears that eligibility is the same for both options as well, with about 98% of exempt employees and 54% of nonexempts being eligible. Perhaps the sticky widget with offering this form of telework to nonexempts has to do with jobs being conducive to a telework environment. The survey showed about 37% of respondents citing this as an issue.

However, the biggest reason for not offering telework to nonexempts, according to the survey, was resistance from top management at 49% for monthly and 54% for weekly. Not even line managers struggle this much according to the survey. The same seems to be true with telework on a full-time basis (every regularly scheduled workday.) Only 34% of organizations offer this type of flexibility, with eligibility being highest, again, among exempt employees (95%). However, 54% of non-exempts were eligible.

Telework really began to take off with the advancement in technology and the ability to connect to the office and to one's work via computer (now even tablets, smartphones - maybe even watches!) And while maybe one of the most desired or talked about types of flexibility, it is also the one option that management has the most challenges with in feeling that employees are actually productive if they aren't in the office. This is often referred to as managing by face-time, and I'm happy to report that this survey -- for the first time since the question has been asked -- is seeing the tide turn in terms of reporting productivity of their teleworking employees.

48% of respondents said their teleworking employees are equally as productive as in-office employees (a statistically significantly greater percentage as compared to the 2013 survey) and 8% said their teleworking employees were more productive than in-office employees. Yay to this -- I actually want to do a happy dance here because I think this is where the trust factor for all of flexibility is probably most evident. For those organizations that can see this as a real strategic objective for them, you are seeing trust increasing between employer and employee, moving toward higher productivity, increased employee engagement and, dare I say it, greater shareholder value.

OK, perhaps I've gone a little too far. But my point really is that trust by management that employees are doing their jobs while having flexibility can really be a "tipping point" to a greater employee experience and more positive business outcomes.

Compressed Workweeks

Oh and we're not done yet with all 13 potential flexibility options that organizations can consider. Another form of flexibility is the compressed workweek and there are variations to this, too. We didn't break out each form so, overall, 48% of organizations are offering this form of flexibility. It's also the third most utilized option by employees in the survey.

More nonexempt employees are eligible for this form of flexibility (83%) versus exempt employees (78%). The most common form is the 4/10 workweek followed by the 9/80 design. However, we have seen a significant decrease in offering of these two forms of compressed workweeks. I can only speculate the reasons why (challenges particularly with the 9/80 in avoiding overtime issues; long hours are very tiring; doesn't work well when you have child-care or elder-care issues, and so on). However there are a few other variations as well (organizations being creative where they can - and I love that!).

There is one compressed work schedule deemed as "no specific flexibility schedule in place/employees develop a schedule with supervisor." That has grown nearly 20% from the last iteration of the survey as well as the option of 4/9 (work four, nine-hour days with one-half day off). That increased by 13%. These last two are so "informal" and, as I said, "creative," that I have to believe managers and employees are sitting down and really thinking about ways to be flexible.

So far between this blog and my previous blog I've covered nine of the 13 options we discuss in the survey (5 in previous blog and 4 in this one.) Stay tuned for my next blog which will cover the remaining options and the idea of a flexible culture and what benefits both the employer and employee derive from that.