What You Need to Know About Workplace Flexibility

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

Today we live in a totally connected, mobile world. Not that long ago, the United States was an agrarian society where it was pretty obvious where the lines were between home and work. Nature often dictated when work needed to be done.

For instance, my dad grew up on a farm and told us stories of not being able to open Christmas presents until late in the day after all the chores were completed. During the Industrial Revolution, work moved to factories where laws and rules existed to regulate work and work schedules.

Now, in the Information Age, all that has changed.

Savvy organizations have realized that what employees value most (after getting paid!) is having a flexible work schedule. As technology has made it easier to work remotely, workplace flexibility has become a competitive advantage and a great way to build loyalty.

Workplace flexibility takes many forms, including:

  • Telecommuting
  • Working from satellite locations to save commuting time
  • Flextime with core hours when everyone has to be in the office, but employees can choose their start time and end time
  • A compressed work week, where full-time employees work longer days for part of the week or pay period in exchange for shorter days or an additional day off each week or pay period
  • Job-sharing, where two employees work part-time, sharing the work of one job

But it’s important to test the water before diving in.

Realize that workplace flexibility can be a challenge for some managers to handle, so a well-crafted program should have some structure.

If you are considering instituting workplace flexibility in your organization, here are some things to consider:

Take time to understand why you are taking this step. Is it to reduce operating costs by moving to a smaller building, or save on utilities, or is it to increase your ability to attract, engage, and retain top talent or all of the above? Set goals, objectives, and metrics to measure success. Base your decisions on your strategic plan and on your workforce plan.

Consider which jobs in your organization are eligible for flexibility. For example, receptionists need to physically be in place at the office to do their job, so that position is probably not one to make eligible.

Ask your employees what types of flexibility would work for them. Be sure not to make promises you can’t deliver.

  • Benchmark what other employers in your field and area are doing to get some best practices.
  • Be sure your program complies with the Fair Labor Standards Act,. The Family Medical Leave Act, OSHA, and any other applicable laws.
  • Develop a policy to outline how your program works.
  • Consider piloting the program in one division or department to work out any problems before rolling it out to the organization.
  • Develop a communication plan.
  • Train your managers in how the program works and how they will need to manage differently to run it well.
  • Train your employees before you roll out the plan. Be sure they understand the goals, criteria for eligibility, roles and responsibilities of employees and managers, and the support that is available

I have been seeing a lot in the news lately about organizations pulling back from a flexible workplace, but I believe it is a concept that is here to stay.

For more information on this topic, see chapter 15 of “The Big Book of HR” by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem. Available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. More here.

About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.