If the idea of working from home conjures an image of a pant-less worker, hiding their bare legs from the video caller on their computer screen, perhaps you’ve fallen victim to the prevailing stereotype. Then there are the puns coined by regular office-going workers: ‘Working remotely, or remotely working?’ ‘Working from home or shirking from home?’
Although we’ve painted a comical picture of views surrounding the idea of working from home, it’s a common perspective on a work model that is fast becoming the rule, rather than the exception.
Hundreds of studies and surveys across the globe continue to show that flexible working hours and/or working from home can have huge benefits for workers, their employers, the economy and the environment. In short, according to the research, flexible hours and working from home has the power to benefit the entire world. On a practical level though, does it really work?
UEC have found, along with thousands of businesses globally, that flexible hours and working from home can be good for employees and actually good for business. In this blog, we take a look at what we mean by flex time and working from home, along with the why and how.
What is flex time?
Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’. The words are ingrained in our psyche, but Dolly Parton’s 1980 hit belongs to a bygone era. Flex time or flexible hours allows employees to schedule their own working hours and days, usually within time frames set by an employer. Schedules may vary by a couple of hours, or some employees may choose to eliminate entire working days by working longer hours over fewer days. In both scenarios, flex time allows workers to vary their hours and create a working schedule that suits them.
Flex time is often relegated to parents on the school pick-up run, but this work model is appreciated by workers at all stages and ages, enabling them to beat the peak hour traffic, assist elderly parents, achieve health and fitness goals or participate in community activities.
While flexible hours and location is not possible for all jobs, it is a reality for most knowledge-based industries which now make up a large proportion of the workforce.
Flexible working hours aren’t new, and in fact, it’s quite common. In Australia, national employment standards allow a number of defined employees to formally request flexible working, although any worker can make a request for flexible working hours.
Big companies like Telstra, ANZ, Westpac and PwC have flexible working policies, with 8 in 10 employees working flexibly at PwC and 3 in 4 employees working flexibly at Westpac. While 75% of companies worldwide have flexible working policies.
What is working from home?
When it comes to working from home let’s start with two facts that don’t need backing up by statistics: no one likes being stuck in peak hour traffic and advances in communication technology have eliminated obstacles of time and distance like never before.
‘Working from home’ represents a shift in the way we work, encompassing those working from a home office, the cafe down the road or the local library. Basically, employees are entitled to work outside a specific work environment, either full-time, part-time or on a flexible basis. Working from home in all its forms can eliminate time-consuming and expensive commutes, ease the burden on infrastructure and potentially minimise office space requirements.
Thanks to technology, working from home is now a real possibility for many workers. The ‘bums on seats’ mentality is one that began 200 years ago with the industrial revolution and for many workers, this ended when broadband internet became a household staple.
Why embrace flex time and working from home?
The benefits of flex time and allowing employees to work from home are overwhelming. Numerous studies and surveys reveal statistics that rule in favour of flex time and working from home.
It’s good for employees
A workplace that is flexible on location and hours leads to happier, healthier employees.
Research by workplace provider Regus found that 9 out of 10 business owners and senior managers reported that flexible working arrangements were a highly effective way to improve staff morale. Regus CEO John Spencer charges that “having a choice in where, when and how we work makes a huge difference to our overall happiness; it helps us cut down on the stress of a long commute, frees up time to cook and eat healthily, or simply helps us get home earlier.”
You don’t need a psychology degree to see that the flexibility to pick your children up from school, enjoy optimum sleep, go for an afternoon run, or in other words, have autonomy over one’s life, leads to happier and healthier humans.
It’s good for society
Allowing flexibility in the workplace is not only good for individual employees, it’s beneficial for society as a whole.
The average one-way commute time for workers in Sydney is 37.5 minutes according to research by Deloitte. That’s approximately 6.25 hours/ week, and of course, there are those who spend much more time than this commuting. It’s a rat race out there and it’s only getting worse as populations in our major cities increase and the strain on infrastructure grows. A shift to flexible work can help relieve this strain.
Flexible work can improve the mental health of workers and decrease work-related stress. This can in turn ease stress on the health system and lead to a happier, and healthier society as a whole.
It’s good for business
Flex time and allowing employees to work from home is good for business enabling businesses to save on rent, attract talent, retain employees and improve productivity.
In 2016, Vodafone conducted a global survey of 8,000 employers. The survey, titled Flexible: friend or foe? found that as a result of flexible working hours:
- 61% of respondents reported increased company profits
- 83% reported improvements in productivity
- 58% believed flexible working policies have a positive impact on their organisation’s reputation
A 2-year study conducted by Stanford University involving Chinese travel company Ctrip showed that working from home increased productivity by 13%. Among employees who worked from home, quit rates decreased by 50%, they had fewer sick days, less time off and Ctrip was able to save almost $2,000 per employee by reducing their office space.
In 2016, Glasgow based company Pursuit Marketing reduced their working week to 4 days but maintained full-time pay. The results were as follows:
- The company increased productivity by 29% per month.
- The company has attracted new talent with a 500% increase in unsolicited recruitment applications via their website. As a result, the company has reduced recruitment and advertising costs.
- Increased employee satisfaction.
- As a result of employee-first ethos, the company has attracted global clients and the demand has seen the company almost double in size.
Workplace provider Regus estimates companies could save up to 60% on their property costs by moving to a flexible workspace model. Their research revealed flexible work is in high demand and helpful for attracting and retaining employees. Three quarters of staff would choose one job over another if flexible work was being offered.
When Australian digital marketing company Versa introduced a 4-day work week they were able to increase revenue by 50% in 12 months and received a marked improvement in the calibre and number of job applications they received.
It’s good for the economy
Increasing the productivity of businesses is good for the overall economy, but flexible work models also have the advantage of allowing more people to join or remain in the workforce. Flexible hours and the ability to work from home can help those with disabilities, parents and elderly workers in the workforce.
It’s good for the environment
Flexible work models are a ‘green’ option that help to minimise pollution and carbon emissions by reducing cars on the road and office space.
Sun Microsystems found that 24,000 employees who were part of a flexible work program avoided producing 32,000 metric tons of CO2 in a year by driving less often to and from work. In addition, office equipment energy consumption rates are double that of home office energy consumption.
How does it work?
A flexible work model will look different, depending on the business, but ultimately it should balance the needs of both employees and the business. It is also important that performance is measured on results and outcomes. Employees are held accountable for the work they do, rather than the hours they spend sitting in a chair.
UEC supports the needs of business and the needs of employees with ‘core office hours’. This means employees are required to be in the office 10-4, Monday – Thursday. This is helpful to coordinate meetings and allows for efficient and effective communication surrounding collaborative tasks. Hours outside of these core hours can be completed at any time in any location, whether it’s from home, the office or a cafe.
UEC has also embraced technology to ensure employees are held accountable for their work but are also equally recognised for their efforts.
The pros and cons
Like anything, flex time and working from home comes with its own set of pros and cons. A lot of attention has already been given to the pros, which can be summarised as:
- Increased productivity for businesses
- Happier and healthier employees
- Benefits that extend to society, the economy and the environment
However, there are still possible cons of flex time and working from home which may include:
- Decreased productivity for some workers
In his 2017 Ted talk, Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom cites the fridge, the bed and the television as the three great enemies of working from home. While overall productivity is often associated with a flexible work model, it’s not the case for all employees. Working from home only increases productivity if an employee wants to work from home. In the previously mentioned Stanford University study productivity was increased by 13% when a randomly chosen group of employees worked from home, but when workers made the decision themselves to work from home productivity increased by 24%.
Working from home can be isolating, while an office environment encourages social interaction. In the same Stanford University study, more than half of workers working from home decided they did not want to work from home 100% of the time as it was too isolating.
- Ineffective communication
While advances in technology allow for unparalleled communication across distances, there is nothing quite like a face-to-face conversation. What can be communicated and explained in a simple conversation may take multiple back and forth emails. There is also the risk of conflict as expression, tone of voice and body language can be easily misinterpreted through technology.
In 2017, working from home pioneers IBM, famously called back some 5,000 remote employers to work in a physical office, citing communication needs and increased productivity.
- Inconsistent office hours may lead to decreased productivity
Prior to the success of their 4-day work week, Australian company Versa had attempted a completely flexible work arrangement, but the result was an ad-hoc system which saw employees in and out of the office on different days. This kind of inconsistency can make it difficult to plan and execute meetings and work on collaborative projects.
Should you introduce flex time and working from home in your business?
Flexible working hours and the ability to work from any location is a fundamental shift in the way we work.
A decision to introduce flex time and working from home in any capacity should follow careful consideration of both business and employee needs. Clear measuring tools based on outcomes and results should also be in place to help you evaluate and modify a flexible work model.
Helping workers to perform their best through a work life balance is at the heart of a movement that is measured on outcomes and results… with, or without pants on.