Is A Truly Flexible Workplace Possible?

Is true flexibility an attainable job perk, or only a mirage that we're chasing?

When it comes to work perks, flexibility is one of our favorite nice-to-haves, whether that means occasionally telecommuting from home, working variable hours or being part of a job share. In fact, a 2013 LearnVest study found that more than half of us would prefer a flexible schedule.

But are employers actually meeting this growing request?

Yes and no, according to new research from the Families and Work Institute. On the one hand, employers are increasingly allowing workers more daily flexibility--think perks like occasionally working from home (67% of companies offer this, up from half in 2008). Companies are also more willing to let workers attend to personal needs during the day, like picking up a sick child from school or spending the morning waiting for the cable guy.

But when it comes to more innovative, long-term flex options, employers are drawing a harder line. Perks like sabbaticals, job shares, or the option to go part time are becoming increasingly rare, the study finds. For example, just 18% of companies today are open to job shares, while almost 30% of firms were in 2008.

What’s behind the switch? It’s likely an effect of the smaller staffs left in the wake of the recession. “[Companies] may be more reluctant to offer long leaves because they don’t have the financial margin to cover that,” Ken Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute, told the Wall Street Journal. “And they may be using day-to-day flexibility to compensate for the extra work people are doing when you have a smaller staff.”

If you’re itching for a more accommodating schedule, learn how to successfully negotiate for perks like sabbaticals and flex time, or take a cue from these real parents who scored flex jobs.

This article originally appeared in LearnVest and is reprinted with permission.

[Image: Flickr user Duncan Hull]

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2 Comments

  • Is a truly flexible workplace possible?

    Yes. If you're working from home, lets say your boss is from another country, basically your work hours are flexible. You wouldn't follow the regular 8-5 schedule in the office. Everything that you do will depend on the tasks given by your boss. You can work anywhere/anytime you like and you'll definitely have more time with your family/friends so long as you're done with your tasks. Working remotely is easier than before. You can use Skype and Sococo for communication. Basecamp for project collaboration. Google Drive and Dropbox for storing data for future purposes. And, you can use Time Doctor to track your work hours and keep your productivity on a higher level.

  • I really think this decline is due to out-dated ways of thinking about flexibility. As long as employers think of flex as a program, it's going to be hard to get leaders to buy-in.

    The "where" and "when" of working is a business process. It's logistics, it's not a program. It's not a benefit and it's not an accommodation. When you reframe it as a scheduling issue, it's easier to see the value in solving it.

    In my new book, Who Works Where [and Who Cares?], I reframe the flex discussion in the context of a bigger conversation between managers and their team members around how they can work together to meet the needs of both the business and individuals. By developing an action plan around six aspects of Team Life, flexibility is on the table for consideration, along with performance, work process, communication, team building, and resiliency.

    Through this lens, managers feel better equipped to support flexibility and everyone wins.