The business case for Flexi-working

By Steph Von der Heyde | Culture

Nov 16
Woman remote working

Flexi-hours or ‘flexible working’ is one of the key perks that 80% of employees said they would pick over a pay raise, and 60% stated was a key contributing factor when it came to deciding whether or not to accept a job, according to a comprehensive Glassdoor survey.

But I think by now we’re all pretty clear that employees want it…The question is: does it make sense for your business (even if you’re not a startup or Silicone Valley tech company)?

The Perks For ‘Normal’ Businesses:

Flexi-working perks like employee retention and attracting more staff have been well documented. The more interesting discussion is around whether working flexi-hours actually increases employees’ productivity and efficiency.

Sad people working

The short answer is: yes, and their is no shortage of science and data to back this up.

Here are (just a few) quick stats for you:

Happy remote worker outside during business hours

But why?

Since scientists’ understanding of cognitive psychology and the brain’s bio-rhythms have progressed, we’ve come to understand more about humans’ productivity cycles. The knowledge has brought to light four major factors in favour of the flexible-hours argument:

The first is that humans have different productivity windows (some will get more done between 6am and 9am than they will the rest of the day, while others may do their best work from 10pm – 2am, for example). This is pretty unsurprising news and most of us have had our own real-life experience of this – but the science has only recently caught up).

The second is that human brains are more productive (and more accurate) when working in short bursts than one long slog. Again, you’ll probably know this from your own experience, but research has shown that the drop in mental accuracy is fairly dramatic.

The third is that people who are pushed past their productive limits run the risk of forming bad habits that bleed into their more productive hours. For example, an employee who spends an hour browsing news at the end of long working day is more likely to engage in this behaviour again the next morning. The ‘procrastination threshold’ is lowered each time employees engage in it (it has to do with strengthening neural networks) – and it’s nearly impossible for 9-5 employees not to fall prey to it as we now know that the average concentration span simply cannot last a full, uninterrupted work day.  

Lastly, when allowed to work to their own schedule and take breaks when needed, the evidence suggests that average employees worked as much as 4 hours more than their desk-bound colleagues. This may not sound like much, but according to a large study conducted in the US and UK, over the course of a 9-5 office workday, the average office-bound employee works a total of two hours and 53 minutes.

The study, which involved over 2000 office workers in various professions and office set ups, revealed that the rest of their days was spent on a combination of reading the news, browsing social media, eating food, socializing about non-work topics, taking smoke breaks, and searching the internet. Now, couple that with the knowledge that the 3 hours those employees are working may not be during their brain’s most productive time, and you’ve got a pretty sad result.

Stressed man with laptop in office

Of course, there are project management factors that  can ‘force’ employees to work more than 3 hours per day. Various research (and again, probably your own experience) has shown that if the nature of the work is deadline or target driven (and missing the deadline/target results in negative consequences for the employee), then workers are naturally forced to put in more hours.

The downside to this management model is that businesses which operate around deadlines and targets typically have higher staff turnover than those without but – you guessed it – offering a flexible working perk seriously reduces employee churn.

In fact In a study recently conducted by Manpower Group, 83% of retail employees ranked flexibility as the number one reason why they would take or stay in a job.

Imposing office buildings

The bottom line:

The bottom line is, when it comes to productivity, flexi-hours have been shown to have a positive rather than negative effect on not only the volume, but also the quality of the work produced.

Additional Perks:

If staff productivity isn’t a concern for you, here are some additional perks that tend to come with flexible working conditions or remote work:

  • Access to wider talent pool

Ask yourself, does more talent exist within a 10km radius of our office, or in the entire world?

  • Reduced staff turnover

Spoiler alert: happier staff stick around longer.

  • Reduced hiring costs

Less time spent recruiting because flexi and remote positions are more desirable and therefore filled faster.

  • Faster growth

A recent study found that companies who hire telecommuters grow faster than companies with only in-office workers. Being able to hire people in different geographic locations is one reason.

Thanks to less staff traveling to and from the office each day.

  • Potential cost savings

Less money is spent on office space & supplies, parking spaces and so on. According to Forbes, US health care company, Aetna was able to save $78 million thanks to remote workers and American Express revealed annual savings of $10-15 million as a result of its remote operations.

Finally, according to one study by PGi:

  • 82% of telecommuters reported lower stress levels
  • 80% of employees reported higher morale when working from home
  • 69% reported lower absenteeism

These findings have been confirmed by data from Gallup, Stanford University, SurePayroll, and ConnectSolutions.

Happy woman taking a walk in nature

Notable Companies That Flexi-Work:

Thanks to the research, it’s no surprise that more companies are choosing remote work in recent years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 23% of workers in the USA reported doing a portion of their work remotely. And the New York Times reports that telecommuting increased 79 percent between 2005 and 2012.

Here are a list of just a few of the successful companies putting it into practice.  

  • Dell
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • American Express
  • Enterprise Holdings
  • Glassdoor
  • Aetna
  • Kaplan
  • UnitedHealth Group
  • ADP
  • CaseNEX
  • Ditto
  • Stack Exchange
  • Blinds.com
  • CleverClicks (yup!)

Needless to say if you’ve been considering remote work and/or flexi hours for your company… it makes sense to take the plunge. Not just common sense, but business sense, financial sense, and management sense. There are myriad studies, data and case studies to draw on to back-up your decision, not to mention the examples set by some pretty prominent companies in a range of industries.

For more reading on how we do it, read this and this and that.  

x