In a recent FlexJobs survey, 93 percent of professionals said their preferred workspace is anywhere but the office, with 51 percent listing home as their top choice. This kind of flexibility is becoming the norm for many businesses, largely as a retention effort. Just how important is flexibility -- 33 percent of those surveyed say they left a job because it lacked flexibility.
When employees know they can work virtually any time and any place, it opens the door for them to take advantage of their personal creature comforts. Instead of wasting time on their morning routine or fighting rush-hour traffic, they can literally get to work by simply getting out of bed and grabbing their laptop.
This freedom also gives the mental flexibility needed to be productive by limiting distractions such as co-workers stopping by the office door and dealing with a hectic commute. Working from home isn't right for every employee or startup, but offering some level of flexibility benefits a business.
Flexibility preserves top talent
It takes a considerable time investment to hire, train and bring new employees up to speed on the goals of the business and their role in future successes. So it's a big waste of time (and money -- losing a Millennial employee can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $255,600 a year, depending on his or her skill level) if an employee leaves shortly after starting because he or she wants more flexibility.
New businesses and early startups need consistency in workflows, processes, communication and task completion to move forward, but that progress is interrupted when employees come and go.
Entrepreneurs experience the biggest loss -- the loss of opportunity -- when employees leave for positions with better perks. Talented employees create new opportunities, new revenue streams and more opportunities for successful results. The worst-case scenario for all business owners is to lose an opportunity they never knew existed.
Putting flexibility to work
When given the professional respect to make their own decisions regarding when and where to work, few people will jeopardize their position. Allowing employees flexibility promotes the idea that everyone has a significant role to play, and accountability rests on the individual. If a particular person prefers to work at night instead of during the traditional 9-to-5, it shouldn't matter as long as productivity is unaffected.
I would much rather get 80 percent from a superstar employee who knocks out 10 tasks a week working from home than 100 percent from a less talented employee who only gets five tasks done a week working from the office.
Being able to handle tasks in a comfortable setting often results in focusing more on the quality of work and less on the time spent working. When an employee works from the office, for instance, that person knows he will work until everyone else starts packing up for the day. But working from home, the employee won't be compelled to stop working until he has decided the job is done.
Working remotely doesn't work for all personality or startup types, but several businesses can succeed without consistent interpersonal interactions, such as computer and IT, accounting, finance, government, travel and hospitality. Web-based businesses can be managed from almost anywhere and more industries, such as advertising and marketing, are moving to a web-centric model.
How to keep employees productive at home
Giving employees the space and time to maintain a healthy work-life balance keeps people from feeling micromanaged. That, in turn, makes them feel important to the business and instills a sense of loyalty to the company.
A sense of loyalty makes employees feel important to the business, and this will surface in the final work product. Here are three strategies for ensuring productivity when employees are working from home:
1. Incentivize employees to reach the finish line
In the next five years, 83 percent of hiring managers say working remotely will increase dramatically, and many see rewards and incentives as the best way to drive employee productivity from afar.
I do the same thing by empowering my employees with incentives during our development sprint workflows. The privilege of working from home becomes a reward to work toward rather than a right; when they don't meet their points for a sprint period, they have minimal work-from-home days.
Fortunately, I haven't had to tell anyone he or she can't work from home because of productivity, but the pretense has been communicated when there has been a definite lag in production. Use working from home as an incentive, not a right.
2. Pay per project
The employees working from home don't have to be full-time. Hiring several contractors on a per-project basis is often cheaper for startups than hiring full-time employees. And in a recent study, 70 percent of freelancers said they prefer to work this way.
Not having to provide office space, equipment, benefits or resources can help entrepreneurs focus their time and resources on achieving specific goals that the business must reach in order to move forward. Companies such as AppSumo and Upwork were able to achieve success in just this way.
Contractors are motivated to complete projects in a satisfactory, efficient manner simply because they won't get paid until the work is completed. Implementing this payment system for any freelancers working from home keeps those remote members of the team productive.
3. Virtual availability
With the availability of services such as GoToMeeting, FaceTime and Skype, face-to-face meetings can be held from a home office, a poolside cabana or anywhere with Wi-Fi. As long as employees are available when I need them, their location is irrelevant. I am beyond flexible as long as employees are available to the team. And it seems that the trend is catching on -- 95 percent of leadership teams say that allowing employees to work remotely has increased employee retention.
I try not to contact anyone during traditional off hours unless we have a four-alarm fire that could shut the doors and end jobs. I know which employees I can hit up to chat at 2 a.m. and which ones are fast asleep recharging so they're ready to go bright and early the next day. This seems to work for us for now.
The bottom line is mutual respect for everyone's personal lives as much as for their professional ones so we can all stay employed. Respect is at the top of most employees' lists of what they want from their employers and co-workers. Those who feel respected will model the behavior with others.
Flexibility is important to employees, which means it should be important to startup founders. Not all options will work for every office, so determine which ones employees (and the business) will benefit from most. And if employees turn into productivity powerhouses when allowed to work from home, embrace it.