There has been a lot of talk about flex work in the last couple of years, but what does that mean exactly? Broadly speaking, flexible work arrangements let employees adjust the times they start and finish, allowing them to create a work schedule that suits their lifestyles.
That might sound challenging to implement and manage for a smaller company, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the benefits can outweigh any initial inconveniences.
Here are three reasons why you should be offering employees flexible work arrangements.
It’s where the workforce is headed
Recent Workopolis research has found that searches for the terms “work from home” and “remote” have tripled in the last three years, indicating an increased demand for flexibility on the job. In addition, searches for virtual jobs (including virtual assistance, project manager, bookkeeper, and call centre) have doubled year over year, which points to a workforce moving on from the traditional nine to five work week.
The 2017 Canadian budget addressed this issue, giving federally regulated employees the right to request “more flexible work arrangements, such as flexible start and finish times, the ability to work from home, and new unpaid leaves.”
Government action was likely spurred on by an online consultation conducted by Employment and Social Development Canada in September 2016, which found that flex hours resulted in lower rates of absenteeism, greater employee job satisfaction and retention, a more diverse and engaged workforce, and increased participation from people with sickness or disability.
“Employers and employer organizations generally agreed that, when it works well, flex work can bolster innovation and improve productivity,” said Amélie Caron, communications officer at Employment and Social Development Canada, adding that the survey also emphasized the role individual employers will have when it comes to adopting flexible work schedules. “Canadians and stakeholders said that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. They emphasized that workers have different needs for flexibility, and that it can be provided in different ways.”
It can help performance and recruitment
A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour in 2011 found that people who were able to adjust their schedule to accommodate personal needs reported getting one or more additional hours of sleep each night. They also didn’t feel as obligated to go to work sick, and they were more likely to see a doctor if they were sick. Overall, flexible scheduling allowed them to feel more well rested, healthier, and under less stress.
“Employees benefit from flexible work arrangements because it allows them more freedom to complete daily tasks that may otherwise overlap during regular hours or avoid spending long hours in traffic,” says Lynda Zugec, managing director for The Workforce Consultants.
This, she says, can also have a direct impact on recruiting and employee retention.
“Companies that offer flexible work arrangements are able to attract and retain a greater number of applicants due to their willingness to accommodate individual schedules and preferences.”
According to data from Workopolis, this is especially true for jobs that pay less than $40,000. Job postings for positions like these performed best when they mentioned three employee benefits: training opportunities, corporate discounts, and, you guessed it, flexible work schedules.
It can improve team communication
World Vision Canada, a Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization, offers two different work options for employees: alternate work arrangements (which allow employees to work remotely) and flexible work arrangements.
“In our case, flexible work arrangements are a compressed work week,” says Charlie Guy, chief people officer at World Vision Canada. “The core hours of our organization are 10 to two, so you try to keep to those core hours, but I have some employees on my team that work additional hours every day to allow them to take every second Friday off. Those arrangements are negotiated beforehand.”
As Guy says, exact conditions must be put in writing and agreed upon by both parties.
“There’s a high level of trust required here and the conversation has to be ongoing,” says Guy. “We expect managers to be in touch with people throughout the day, or at least people working at home to get in touch with their colleagues to complete their work. You’re not in a vacuum where you’re free to do whatever you want. It requires ongoing team communication.”
If that sounds off-putting, Guy believes the result is worth the adjustment, especially for companies in larger, traffic-congested cities.
“We’re located at the 401 and Highway 10, so getting here from the GTA can be quite a challenge,” Guys says. “Because of that, flexible work arrangements have been very attractive to prospective talent, and [it has] improved staff retention in an age when many people switch jobs every few years. For these reasons, I think flexible work arrangements are the future for many companies.”