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How to Create a Formalized Flexible Work Program for Your Company

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Flexible work options already exist casually at most organizations. Employees leave work early to attend children's activities, or take time in the morning for a doctor's appointment. Staffers work from home when they're expecting the plumber, and anyone with a smartphone or tablet seems to check work email at night and on the weekends.

Casual work flexibility empowers employees to better balance their work and personal lives. But could a formalized flexible work program reap benefits for a company, in addition to benefitting employees? The answer is yes. Here's why, and how to make it work for your company.

Depending on how the question is worded, studies show anywhere from 20 to 80 percent of employers offer some type of formal flexible work program to their employees. The most common options include flexible work schedules, work-from-home arrangements, part-time hours, freelance or consulting options, or some combination of those. Unlike more casual programs, formalized flexible work programs help employers track the impact of such arrangements, improve the benefits and reduce the pitfalls.

For example, Aetna Insurance has 47 percent of its workforce working remotely and reports that its formalized program has reduced its office space by 2.7 million square feet and reaped $78 million in savings. For all companies, the average yearly savings per employee, with full-time telecommuting, is $11,000.

A Society of Human Resource Management poll found that 89 percent of HR professionals said other flexible work arrangements would be more prevalent in the next five years. Companies without formalized programs will find it difficult to compete for top talent because job satisfaction is positively linked to employees' access to flexible work options. Sixty percent of employees with high access to flexibility are highly satisfied with their jobs, compared with 44 percent of those with moderate access and only 22 percent of those with low access.

Related: 5 Ways Telecommuting Saves Employers Money

So, how can a company create a formalized flexible work program that reaps positive benefits, both for the bottom line and for employees?

Assess the company's motivations and situation.

In laying the foundation for a flexible work program, understand the reasons for offering such work. Do you hope to attract better candidates for open positions? Decrease operating and real estate costs? Improve employee morale and reduce turnover? Determining the ultimate goals of a flexible work program will help bring structure to the plan.

Determine which types of flexibility will be offered and to whom.

Not all employees like to work from home, and others might not like flexible schedules, so it's important to survey staff members. Understand what they would like in a flexible work program so you can create offerings that appeal to your workers and potential hires. Next, determine which types of flexibility are appropriate for which departments or job roles. For example, front-facing positions typically can't work from home, but they might be able to adopt flexible or part-time hours.

Related: 4 Reasons Telecommuting Is Good for Employees and Better for the Company

Pursue management's buy-in.

While most employees are enthusiastic about flexible work options, managers and executives may not be. Their support of the program is crucial to its success, so the benefits to their teams and the company as a whole need to be talked about often. Refer to the goals set in step one. Will the new flexible work program help retain their best workers, increase productivity, reduce costs or hire better candidates? Explain the results other companies have seen, and show them how the program will be regularly evaluated to ensure continual improvement and success.

Train managers well.

Managers need to learn new skills to best manage their flexible workforces. What works in managing in-office, set-schedule employees won't necessarily work for virtual or flexible schedule staffers. Help managers transition from reactive or passive techniques to proactive management, which works well for both traditional and flexible workers. Create guidelines and expectations so all parties involved feel connected and engaged, regardless of when or where they're working.

With flexible work forecast to increase over the next five years, establishing a formal program now is crucial to a company's long-term success. Laying a solid foundation and growing the program slowly and deliberately, with regular evaluation, continual improvement, and goal-setting, will better your chances for success.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Allowing Employees to Telecommute

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