As always, I’ve been following the trends that are really going to change the way we work. Among them: the need to continue evolving our concept of the workforce and the tools changing how, where, and when we work.
Generation after generation is moving closer to a completely digitally-enabled form of working. We’re now welcoming the first wave of Generation Z into our organizations. For these digital natives, tech is simply part of their world. It’s not a novelty; it’s not an “other.” Technology is fully integrating itself into everything we do. It’s reached the point where tech is advancing us well beyond the traditional boundaries of workplace and workday, allowing us to expand, scale, and ease up on the rigid definitions applied to how we work.
Tech is also unlocking a surprising key to engagement and productivity — flexibility. From the youngest working demographic all the way to senior leadership, we’re all learning that being flexible has tangible and mutual benefits. We don’t necessarily have to work in the same place, at the same time, or even five days a week to perform at our best. In fact, according to Citrix CTO Christian Reilly’s perspective on the recent ‘Future of the Working Week’ report (PDF), “A four-day week is not the only option for creating a shorter working week, and there is no one-size fits all solution. But it is the creation of flexibility and useful working hours that is key, in striving for a healthier work-life balance, and more productive output.”
Furthermore, the recent study by the Centre of Economics and Business Research (Cebr) (in conjunction with Citrix) spells out the benefits of flexibility by the numbers. The bottom line: flexible work models are a win. Companies that leverage technology to enable flexibility can better attract talent and increase employee engagement and productivity. They can also potentially boost the US economy by as much as $2.36 trillion a year. Yes, that’s trillion with a “T.”
Measuring the Business Benefits of Flexibility: A Win for All Sides
An Untapped Pool
Remote work enables companies to tap into new talent pools, filling their talent gaps with what’s called the “home force” — a great name for a potential goldmine of talent at a time when we’re greatly in need. In terms of a business case, tapping into this segment of the talent market has irrefutable benefits. The home force entails a whole range of experience and life stages:
- upper-level talent who has opted for better work-life balance
- new parents
- parents trading off a year of office time for being home with the kids
- caregivers with aging relatives
And those are just a few examples.
If you think this home-bound population comprises only a small segment of potential talent, think again. The Cebr survey found that more than two thirds (69%) of people who are currently unemployed or economically inactive would be encouraged to start working if they had the opportunity to work flexibly. That’s what drives a couple trillion in economic gains.
More than Just Balance
The Cebr study also found that 95% of the knowledge workers polled who are currently employed (again, these are not self-employed) would work from home 2.4 days per week if given the chance. 60– 70% of respondents would work from local coffee shops, shared workspaces and other locations at least one day per week. It’s more evidence that the benefits of flexibility speaks to a desired sweet spot in our lives. It’s not enough to strike a balance between work and life — there’s simply too much happening in both realms to maintain a workable split.
Integration is another element to consider. It breaks the seams between each in a way that better fits our seamless, digitally-enabled ways of functioning in person and via digital workplaces, driving better employee experiences. There’s also a certain symmetry between the integration of the physical and digital world with the integration that the benefits of flexibility creates between our work lives and our home. “The future of work is dynamic and decentralized,” said Donna Kimmel, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Citrix. “And businesses that create flexible digital environments in which employees can access the tools and information they need to perform at their best, from anywhere at any time, can deliver it today.” It’s clear why the company helps customers to better guide, manage and automate through a unified, secure and high-performing digital workplace with intelligent capabilities, known as Citrix Workspace.
Gallup found that workers who spend about three to four days of the week working offsite are substantially more engaged in their jobs than traditional counterparts stuck behind desks all day. Cebr’s study broke down the numbers to show just why we all stand to gain — and given the factor of financial stress in our lives, it makes sense.
The study found that the benefits of flexibility and remote working can save many billions:
- 5.8 billion hours annually saved by employees not having to travel to and from work.
- $44.4 billion in savings on commuting costs.
- $107 billion a year back in the pockets of US workers, given the savings in cost and time.
Engage Them or Lose Them
If you don’t build flexibility into your job offerings, you may lose great talent who prefers to work for an organization that’s more flex-friendly. In a little more than ten years, the number of telecommuters (not self-employed) has increased by 159%. Among millennials, some 76% of them would take a pay cut of 3% or more for a company that offered flexible office hours. And the Cebr study uncovered further incentive for leaders bent on improving productivity: 93% of respondents said virtual/remote working would enable them to manage their time more effectively and devote extra hours to work tasks. Read that again: your employees want to spend more time working. Working remotely would enable them to do so.
Which begs the question: what if you don’t give them the chance? Someone else will. We’re still at 3.6% unemployment. It’s not unusual for a company to poach its competitor’s workforce, and not just on the executive level. Organizations are trying to offer all the bells and whistles. But if flexibility is off the table, you may not get to an interview — so it’s a best practice to build the capability to provide it.
Tim Minahan, the Executive Vice President of Strategy and Chief Marketing Officer at Citrix, pointed out that from a business standpoint, flexible and remote is a key way for leaders to not only expand the talent pool but also tap into their skills to “unlock innovation, engage customers and move their business forward.” I’d agree, and add that the operative word here is forward. Leadership consistently reports that a primary challenge is recruiting talent with the right skills — and flexibility eases some of that pressure. One of the top three constraints facing new businesses is being able to hire the right talent, according to 60% of SMB leaders surveyed this year. Usually, in HR, we reject the concept of a magic bullet. But in this case, if you’re looking for the magic bullet, flexibility and remote working opportunities may be it.
About the author
Meghan Biro founded TalentCulture in 2008 to lead a conversation about the future of work with her peers in HR and leadership. These days, she is consistently included in lists of top online influencers and writes about HR tech and talent management at Forbes.com, SHRM.org and a variety of other media outlets.