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A version of this post appeared in Public Sector Digest.

In some ways it’s odd that I feel compelled to write about the business case for flexible work. After all, it’s already so common. “Not in my organization,” I can hear some of you saying. However, I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably worked in a way that could be called “flexible” at some point in your career. Whether it is answering emails while travelling, or taking a call while out for a meeting or conference, some of your work is probably being done when you’re not sitting at an assigned desk.

We call this workshifting and it can refer to a wide range of workplace strategies. Whether it’s a shift in hours or the freedom to work from home occasionally, the common element is a focus on allowing employees to work where and when they are most effective. Workshifting isn’t a change organizations have to deal with, it’s an opportunity to embrace.

This isn’t a new, risky idea

The idea of working in places other than a dedicated office from 9-5 is hardly new. In fact, the concept of teleworking has been around for 40 years. Think about that for a moment. Long before the benefits offered by smart phones, personal computer and even the internet, people were looking for ways to avoid having to commute to an office.

Despite this long history and prevalence of workshifting, Canada lags behind other countries where flexible work is concerned. A 2015 Trends in Workplace Flexibility study by Worldatwork found that globally 85% of businesses offer some form of flexibility. In comparison, research by BMO Financial puts the number closer to 23% for Canadian employers.

Benefits for employers and employees alike

The benefits of flexible work are in no way limited to employees. Employers have just as much, if not more, to gain from workshifting. In case you’re not convinced, here are five ways employers benefit:

Five Ways Organizations Benefit from Flexible Work

1. Increased Productivity

We all have our own natural chronotype. In the same way that some people are night owls and others early-risers, our individual productivity through the day varies. When WORKshift surveyed Canadian workers in 2015, more than half reported that they are at their most productive either before or after traditional work hours. In forcing employees to work when we can physically watch them, we’re limiting their ability to perform at their best. According to the WorldatWork report referenced above, 65% of Canadian businesses that offer flexible work reported increased productivity.

shw_biz_linkedin_image_post_mar15_WORKShiftInfographic3

2. Reduced absenteeism

Each year Canadians are absent from the office for an average of 3.6 days a year for personal and non-medical reasons. That loss of productivity costs employers roughly $2,000 per year, per employee.

Workshifting can reduce absenteeism because employees:

  • Are more engaged in their work;
  • Are able to handle personal appointments without taking a full day off;
  • Are less exposed to sick co-workers;
  • Work from home when they are not feeling well enough to go to the office;
  • Can work from home more quickly than they could have returned to the office following surgery or extended illness; and
  • Are less stressed.

3. Talent attraction and retention

Whether you’re a working parent, someone caring for an elderly dependent or are simply someone who values efficiency in your life, you have no doubt had a dinnertime conversation about the struggle to find what is often referred to as work/life balance.

In a study published by LinkedIn in 2014,5 82% of Canadians said they would be willing to change jobs for the opportunity to work from home, 22% would take a pay cut and 59% would be willing to use their own resources to support remote work. Organizations that win the talent war will no doubt be those that accommodate work/life fusion.

When WORKshift looked at the impact that flexibility, both in terms of time and location, has on employee engagement, the numbers were staggering.

Where employees are granted more flexibility with regard to the hours they choose to work, employee engagement goes up by 23% and the portion of employees who are “highly engaged” increases by 29%. When we looked at flexibility for location, engagement level goes up 21% and the “highly engaged” increases by a whopping 89%.

4. Business Continuity

Whether it’s the Calgary floods in 2013, the G20 in Toronto, or the recent fire disaster in Fort McMurray, business disruptions, man-made or natural, are a reality. Unprepared businesses can lose $212 per day per employee in productivity. A well-designed flexible work program can mitigate or even eliminate these costs, but only if it’s put in place prior to the disruption.

5. Direct savings

Flexible work programs come in many forms to suit the needs of a range of businesses and the savings vary accordingly. Many organizations in both the private and public sector are deploying flexible working conditions to optimize their real estate footprint by revisiting the way workplaces are used. According to CBRE Research, while in the office people spend less than 50% of their workday at their desk anyway. Instead, organizations are moving towards flexible spaces that provide employees with choice about the type of space they need to achieve their work in each day. Workshifting is not solely about working from home; it is about being given choice and flexibility about where and when you produce your best work.

There’s no reason to wait

The nature of work is changing. In fact, the Federal Government has made a commitment to modifying the Canadian Labour Code to allow all employees of federally regulated industries (which impacts 12,000 enterprises in Canada) to request flexible working conditions. It would appear that flexible work is now poised to realize its full potential in Canada.

A discussion paper released by the Ministry of Labour in late May, states that the move is meant to address work-life balance issues facing Canadians. As the paper states, “As a number of recent studies suggest, many are seeking more flexibility in when, how and where they work because they highly value work-life balance. Millennials are the fastest growing segment of Canada’s workforce and have now become the largest generation in the Canadian workforce.”

Whether you fear this or celebrate it, the change will impact your organization. The numbers above make a compelling case and those that see the opportunities will reap the benefits but doing so requires active engagement with the change.

The key to implementing this kind of workplace transformation is a clear strategy with a well-structured plan for implementation, supported by a strong communication and change management program. There’s no reason any organization willing to put in the time and the resources can’t get ahead of the curve and start developing their own flexible work program today.

For more on the business case for flexible work, check out this whitepaper from Shaw Business

 

Discussion

BY Robyn Bews

Vice President, Business Development

Trade, Investment & Attraction

CONNECT:

Robyn has been the driving force behind WORKshift since it was established 2009 and grew into a national program. She co-authored the book WORKshift. Robyn is a graduate of Acadia University, before joining us her career included work in marketing with TELUS Communications and the United Nations.

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