Flexible Work: Should Companies Allow Their Employees to Work When and Where They Want?

Aug 13   ·   Reading time: 5 minutes
Article at a glance
  • Flexible work is good. Keep it.
  • Remote/hybrid work and flexible working hours increase job satisfaction, productivity, retention, employee well-being, and equality.
Flexible Work: Should Companies Allow Their Employees to Work When and Where They Want?
COVID lockdown proved that flexible work is possible, despite what most of us previously thought. We went home, embraced technology, and continued to work. While it wasn’t easy for everyone (as every parent who worked from home while their children were trying to remotely attend school knows), it was a dream come true for many.

Now that we no longer practice social distancing, companies face a choice of what to do about flexible work. Do we allow people to work when and where they want to, as long as they get the job done? Or should employees return to the office and stop pretending that working from home (or a camper, as it’s becoming increasingly popular) is just as effective?

The short answer is: Flexible work is good. Keep it.

Remote/hybrid work and flexible working hours increase job satisfaction, productivity, retention, employee well-being, and equality.

Benefit #1: Greater job satisfaction

Flexible work allows for greater work-life balance and, as a result, positively impacts job satisfaction.

Tip #1: If your company allows for flexible work, mention this in job postings. Research shows that, for example, 93% of job seekers in the UK want a job that allows for flexible work, and only 22% of advertised jobs mention this opportunity.

Benefit #2: Increased productivity

Having happy employees is essential, but the primary concern of proponents of employees returning to offices is that people aren’t as productive when they work from home. And this makes sense. After all, it’s easier to slack off when no one is watching us. Not to mention kids running around the house and your dog constantly coming over to play.

Yet, evidence shows that people are more productive when they work from home. For example, Bloom and Jiang allowed their employees to choose whether they wanted to work from home or commute to the office. Compared to those who came into the office, the at-home employees were more productive (and happier, and less likely to quit). Another study showed that remote work increases work performance, especially for working mothers.

Tip #2: Give employees a choice of where and when they want to work. Depending on one’s life circumstances, many people may be more productive when they work from home.

Benefit #3: Increased retention

Flexible work increases employee retention. A survey of 1000 employers found that almost 75% of companies feel that implementing flexible working practices positively impacted retention.

Benefit #4: Improved employee well-being

Employees who are allowed to work flexibly report greater well-being. People report having a greater work-life balance and experiencing less stress. Flexible work can also lead to a healthier lifestyle. A 2021 survey found that 20% of employees say they have more time to exercise and make better lifestyle choices thanks to flexible work. A longitudinal study conducted at a large multinational company showed that flexible work is associated with employees less often taking time off due to illness.

Benefit #5: Greater equality, diversity, and inclusion

Flexible work supports gender equality. While it appeals to men and women, it more significantly impacts women. Yet, as research suggests, thanks to flexible work, more men are becoming interested in sharing childcare.

Remote/hybrid work can also help reduce the gender pay gap by reducing commute time for women. Research shows that long commute contributes to the pay gap by forcing many women who have children to work in roles that pay less so they can be closer to home. Flexible work removes this obstacle.

Tip #3: If you want to attract women to senior managerial positions at your company, allow for remote work. Research shows it’s an effective way to attract more senior female applicants. An experiment done by Zurich Insurance and the Behavioural Insights Team led to a 16% rise in women applying for jobs and an almost 20% increase in female applications for management roles. Similarly, John Lewis & Partners increased the share of female applicants from 38% to 51% by offering and advertising flexible work.
Opponents of flexible work can undoubtedly provide examples that are "proof" that flexible work is ineffective. And there are such examples. After all, we all have different life circumstances: Not everyone has the right conditions to work from home, and many prefer to work from an office. There'll always be exceptions to a rule.

The point is not to force everyone into flexible work. The point is to let employees choose how they want to work. People aren't stupid, and they won't deliberately choose a less efficient way of working. By giving people the choice, you create an opportunity to increase your employees' job satisfaction, productivity, retention; to improve their well-being and to promote equality and diversity in your company, especially in senior management positions. Research supports this.
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