“You don’t have to be present to win” is one of the most-used terms and conditions in any promotion or sweepstakes. It’s designed to get more people to participate, thereby improving the outcome for the specific cause. And it's not just for sweepstakes, because, believe it or not, the same idea can apply to the modern U.S. workforce.
That workforce is impressive for its diversity and its multigenerational profile, which encompasses every kind of worker, from rugged generalist to niche expert. But from the individual employee's point of view, that's not such great news. Because never before have so many people felt so extended -- regardless of all those time-saving apps.
Here's where “You don’t have to be present to win” comes in, in terms of the benefits flexible work environments provide. With laptops, smartphones, document sharing, the cloud and other communication tools, companies are increasingly free to loosen the reins on their teams, even to untether people altogether from the physical office environment.
As professional decisions go, untethering staff is one of the more personal choices companies might consider. But if they do, they should also consider the fact that giving people flexibility will often elicit greater loyalty without sacrificing results.
Certainly, untethering takes more communication, rigorous goal-setting and sophisticated processes, but it can work. Upticks on retention have measurable ROI to any business. The organization will spend less time and fewer resources recruiting. And ratcheting up soft benefits may provide for cost savings: Enabling an employee to save the time and stress of a daily commute may well mean greater output.
Flexible hours or a once-a-week work-from-home benefit may further result in people logging more, not fewer, hours throughout the course of a work week.
So, given those positives of flexible work, the question becomes: how best to implement?
A flexible work policy is, after all, less straightforward and more nuanced than an annual review process or stock plan. Your company may be small enough where you can institute a blanket policy. Yet if it is so large that it has different groups with different responsibilities, a blanket policy may not work.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The best situation I have seen was at the corporate offices of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, which offers a wide range of of flex time and telecommuting arrangements. Sherry Chris, the brand’s CEO, has long advocated for new ways of collaboration and preached the tangible benefits of retention, loyalty and innovation that flex time offers.
This is a work environment in which people are trusted to do their work. At Better Homes and Gardens, we coordinate for proper coverage, but if someone needs to work from home here or there or on a regular basis, the request is evaluated, communication processes and metrics are instituted and, chances are, the request is granted.
I myself had twins two years ago. While I am fortunate enough to have childcare at home and a job that allows for greater flexibility than other jobs do, my time as a parent has had some hiccups. However, having a boss who is awesome at a company open to flexibility has enabled me to manage both sides of my life with greater ease.
If you own a company, you can formalize your flexible work policy by tying it to tenure, performance or both. You can leave these decisions up to individual managers and decide on flex schedules on a case-by-case basis. You can extend flexibility on an as-needed basis or make it a regular occurrence. Whatever your approach, your organization will reap the rewards.
Creating a flexible working environment benefits multiple categories of workers, not just women with children. There is universal appeal to the concept, as we all have busy, multidimensional lives. Parents want to spend more time with their families. People are tackling higher education alongside their jobs. Men and women are caring for an elderly parent. People need time to go to the doctor or dentist or run a crucial errand. . . you get the point.
What's more, flex time has its intangible side: Allowing for it shows the human side of business. You are telling your employees, “I trust you to deliver. We have the right processes in place to do this, and I respect your time as well as your impact to the organization.”
That kind of attitude appeals to me and explains my longevity. Certainly, from time to time, my phone will ring with word of a possible job opportunity. Yet even if all other things were equal between any prospective role and the one I have, I would treasure the flexibility I have here.
I feel that with flex time, I can be a better parent, a better employee and a better leader. And I don't have to be present to win.