For some employees, working from home would be a dream come true. No more laborious commutes, greater flexibility to deal with child care and other family obligations, and let’s just say the rules on “office attire” would be considerably loosened. But these idealistic thoughts aren’t shared by everyone.
Some employees, even younger ones, still crave the structure, support and social bonds of the office. They’d prefer not to have to telecommute, though many would still like the option to do so occasionally. Or so a recent survey seems to indicate.
The data in question was generated by multinational consultancy Randstad and published in its Q1 2018 Workmonitor survey. (Although the organization’s surveys often target employees in more than 30 countries across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, these results focus on U.S. workers.)
Perhaps the most surprising discovery was that 62% of respondents said they prefer working in the office, not from home. Now you might think that most of these employees are older folks too set in their ways to abandon their cushy offices for the chaotic uncertainty of a workspace at home. But the “in-office preference” rate was even higher among younger workers. That is, about 65% of 18- to 24-year-olds stated that they’d rather be in the office than working from home (or elsewhere).
However, as mentioned, having the option of working remotely was widely favored by those who responded to the survey. To wit, 82% of responding employees in the United States like the concept of being able to work remotely whenever they like, and 80% of them said they support the idea of “agile work” (that is, working from anywhere, anytime) because it increases their productivity, creativity and job satisfaction.
Welcome Back, Flextime
These results could leave some employers flummoxed. After all, among the often-touted bottom-line benefits of telecommuting is less need for office space. Let everyone who can work from home do it, downsize your facilities by leasing a smaller property and, voila, you’ve saved some dollars on overhead — literally.
For better or worse, reality has a way of complicating things. Many employees want a common gathering place to do their work and aren’t necessarily swayed by the freedoms of the work-from-home lifestyle.
What this data may indicate is more of a swing back toward the tried-and-true concept of “flextime.” As you’re probably aware, under a traditional flextime program, employees tailor the times they start and stop work. Doing so helps them manage work-life balance while providing their employers with more hourly coverage over the course of a day.
Of course, the employer retains the right to approve, modify or reject an employee’s proposed work hours. That way, the manager can compare and adjust all employees’ schedules in a given work unit to ensure that someone starts the day at the earliest available time and another starts at the latest time.
So, does a flextime program’s advantages outweigh its risks? Under the right circumstances, the advantages clearly win. Employees get more scheduling freedom while employers enjoy higher productivity with no increased costs.
However, flextime may sometimes benefit individuals yet decrease a work unit’s productivity. When considering a flextime program (or re-evaluating your current one), consider the type of operation rather than a worker’s status. For instance, administrative job functions may be more conducive to split shifts than parts assembly.
The major difference between flextime programs of yore and one that you might implement today is technology. Twenty-five years ago, the concept centered on different shifts of people coming into the office and varying schedules. Now employees could spend part of their workday in the office and another part at home. Or work certain days in the office and others remotely.
But it’s here that many employers and employees hit a roadblock. According to the Randstad survey, 66% of workers who like the agile work concept are unable to make use of it. In some cases, this may be because of the nature of their jobs. Again, someone who assembles parts for a living probably can’t work from home.
Another reason is that, per the survey, 35% of employees said their employers don’t provide the equipment needed to work from home. So, in other cases, perhaps the employer just can’t afford a mass purchase of new laptops or all the security software necessary to safely maintain a remote workforce. Overall, the survey found that a mere 36% of respondents said their employers support flexible work options.
A Path Forward
For you, the employer, the ultimate lesson here is rather simple: Don’t dismiss the idea that some or even all your workforce could work from home, either full-time or on a flex-time basis. But don’t feel like you must be completely tied or controlled by the concept, either.
Granted, many more employees do work from home than did in decades previous. Yet, as the survey indicated, plenty of workers still want to go into a workplace and interact face-to-face with their colleagues and managers.
Make it a point during strategic planning and performance management meetings to regularly discuss the idea of telecommuting and flextime (or one or the other) in light of what your workforce looks like at the time. Performance Dimensions Group can help your organization better understand the issues you face and guide you toward a customized solution that supports your objectives. Please contact us.