Unless you work for IBM, which bucked current work trends by calling most of its 160,000 offsite employees back to their cubicles, I probably don’t need to convince you of the benefits of remote work.
There’s higher employee engagement and retention; reduced carbon footprint, thanks to consolidated workspaces and fewer commuters on the road; equal or even increased productivity; work environment better suited to the needs and preferences of the rising generation. What’s not to love?
Like it or not, flexible work policies are here to stay. “The employees have already left the building,” Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, told CNN Money. “Whether we're nine feet, nine floors or nine time zones away, we're working virtually.”
But not everyone feels comfortable taking advantage of the opportunity to work from home — or the local Starbucks. While 79% of knowledge workers have access to flextime, about one in six workers is afraid to use it, either because of how it might look to their coworkers or because their boss doesn’t trust them enough.
Given that 74% of workers say they would quit their current jobs to work for an organization offering remote-work options, it’s in every company’s best interest to promote and encourage healthy attitudes toward work flexibility. Here are six ways to do that.
1. Start at the top
Workers need to know that flextime policies are supported by company executives and by their own immediate supervisors. Managers who have reservations about remote work may need some extra encouragement or training. (Here are a few convincing facts and figures.) Their concerns might also be alleviated by more effective online collaboration tools.
2. Set core hours
Managers should establish reasonable guidelines for when and how team members need to be available when they’re not in the office. Are they expected to answer email throughout the day? Regularly check Slack or another messaging app? Remain logged in to work management software or another collaboration tool?
It also can be helpful to designate core hours during which everyone should be accessible for quick questions and spontaneous collaboration.
3. Be clear about expectations
Work flexibility doesn’t have to mean “anything goes” unless you want it to. According to Global Workplace Analytics, “[t]wo to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).”
Communicating expectations up front will give some employees much-needed permission to make use of flextime, while discouraging others from overdoing it. Does a 50/50 arrangement work for your organization? No more than three remote days a week? Everyone works at home on Wednesdays? Whatever your expectations are, get everyone on the same page.
Teams also might consider making one day a week off-limits for meetings. Even if flextime is available in theory, a constant barrage of meetings can keep it from becoming a reality for many.
4. Empower everyone to set boundaries
If one team member wants to reserve Tuesday mornings for volunteering at a child’s school and another one attends a Friday afternoon yoga class, be as accommodating as you can. Nearly 70% of employees are willing to give up some personal time in exchange for time they need away from the office during typical business hours and would prefer flextime versus having to dip into their allotted annual PTO.
Laura Butler, our senior vice president of people and culture at Workfront, says that a company is nothing without its people, and if you want to keep the best of the best around, you need to keep them happy. "I’ve found that people value time as much or more than money,” she tells me. “The leaders who understand that will run the businesses of the future."
5. Be considerate
More than 50% of workers say technology has ruined the family dinner because employers or clients expect responses at any hour, and 89% say it's important for their employer to not contact them when they’re off the clock.
Remote workers especially need a break from the “always on” mentality. Some may feel that in return for being able to work from home, they have to be available 24/7. To keep from perpetuating this fear, managers should lead by example. Stop texting and emailing at all hours and reserve evening and weekend communications for rare emergencies. (Even if you need to write the email at 7 p.m. on a Friday night while the issue is top of mind, you can use Hubspot or a similar service to schedule it to arrive first thing Monday morning.)
6. Keep workloads in balance
Managers need the ability to see who’s working on what, where potential bottlenecks are, whether projects are on track or in trouble, who’s overloaded and who has available bandwidth — at all times. Otherwise the workload gets out of balance, resentments take root, and you’re dealing with much bigger problems than the fear of flextime.
One of our clients, Advantage Media Group, has pointed out that with remote employees comes an increased need for documentation and communication. Their Brian Kreutz, who is working remotely while traveling the globe for an entire year, says you can’t cut corners when you have a remote workforce. “You have to document things. You need to follow up with the same process. You need to be on the same page,” he told me. “You need to communicate better.”
Location, Location, Location
While IBM retreats from a decade of embracing remote work, many other enterprises are doubling down on flexibility. “Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their space around the fact that employees are already mobile,” reports Global Workplace Analytics. “Studies repeatedly show they are not at their desk 50-60% of the time.”
As just one example, a quarter of Dell employees currently work from home either full- or part-time, and the company would like to double that number by the year 2020.
“We're pushing a culture where it just doesn't matter. Your location simply doesn't matter anymore,” Mohammed Chahdi, Dell's global director of HR services, told CNN Money from his standing desk at his home office in Toronto.
When location ceases to matter, not only do you increase job satisfaction and retention among current employees, your recruiting pool also expands just a little — from the confines of your current metropolitan area to the entire world.
Editor's note: This is a contributed piece from Alex Shootman, President and CEO of Workfront, a work management and project management software platform.