The first thought-provoking finding that I’m going to focus on from the CFO Perspectives on Work Life Flexibility survey of 100 top CFOs that we co-sponsored with BDO Seidman is the fact that CFOs are least likely to see a direct bottom-line impact of work life flexibility on real estate costs and customer satisfaction. Here’s the breakdown of the percentages of CFOs identifying “high” or “moderate” business benefits from flex:
Improving retention 90%
Improving recruitment 88%
Improved employee productivity 75%
Differentiation from competitors 72%
Minimizing environmental impact 68%
Reducing health care costs 53%
Reducing real estate costs 34%
Enhanced customer service 34%
This finding is surprising because the potential savings on real estate costs and the improvements in customer service are two of the more concrete strategic application of work life flexibility. So what opportunities and bottom-line improvements are being missed because most CFOs don’t recognize the business impacts in these two key areas? Here are some examples:
Let’s start by looking at the potential real estate cost savings. Through a combination of telecommuting, sharing of office space, and flexible schedules organizations can both reduce the amount of real estate they need, and use their existing real estate more efficiently.
CIO.com recently interviewed me about Chorus, Inc. a New Jersey-based company with 35 employees that decided to close down their headquarters and an office in Texas and have everyone work from home for a tremendous cost-saving. According to CIO.com, “President and CEO A.J. Schreiber says Chorus can continue to serve customers while simultaneously saving $400,000 a year simply by closing its 15,000 square feet of office space. Sure, breaking leases and telecom contracts is costing the company money, but the long-term savings far outweigh those short-term costs, says Schreiber. ‘We wouldn’t have done this if it would have had a negative impact on our ability to serve customers,’ he adds.”
This brings us to customer satisfaction and how work life flexibility can actually improve the way an organization services their clients. In today’s “always on”/ “do more with less” global competitive reality, more and more businesses are having to service customers and clients across time zones. This requires employees to work outside of “normal” business hours. With work life flexibility, an employee can deal with customers in Asia in the evening, during the customer’s business hours, and come in later the next day. The customer is happy, and the employee isn’t burned out. Currently, too many employees are trying to work their standard work day, and the cover foreign clients after hours.
The benefit to real estate and customer service from work life flexibility can be simultaneous, as demonstrated by a group of accountants who telecommuted from BDO Seidman, LLP’s Houston office while living in Austin, Texas. Because of their physical presence in Austin, these accountants were able to win business from local Austin-based clients even though BDO didn’t have a physical office in the city at the time. Recently, the firm decided to open an office to handle the increased level of business generated by this group of telecommuters.
Work life flexibility is critical business strategy for achieving bottom-line results in many areas but it requires employees and leaders to rethink the way work is done and life is managed. This is why “life” needs to be an upfront part of the strategic equation. It involves moving outside of the traditional “this is work,” and “this is life” mindset and structure. But the innovation in real estate cost savings and improved customer service will not occur unless CFOs recognize the potential, and right now, according to the survey, they don’t.
What real estate cost savings and client services benefits do you see from work life flexibility? And how can we make more CFOs aware of the potential?