How These 4 Companies Are Embracing Flexible Work — and Why You Should Too

May 22, 2019

A third (31%) of LinkedIn users say flexible work arrangements are a very important consideration when choosing a job. That’s a third of candidates who might turn down an offer if your company doesn’t offer flexibility.

That’s according to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report, which surveyed 5,000 talent acquisition and HR professionals around the world. And although 36% of women and 29% of men say flexibility really matters when they make job decisions, fears about communication, productivity, and lack of oversight hold many companies back from fully embracing these desirable policies.

While these challenges can certainly exist when employees work remotely, they’re far from insurmountable — and the pros often far outweigh the cons. To prove that, here are four companies that have nailed flexible work options, leading to more satisfied employees, higher retention, and even lower overhead costs.

1. Dell formalized its flexibility policy to provide a support structure for all employees — saving $12 million annually in the process

It’s no surprise that Dell, a major computer company, embraced technology wholeheartedly when it began building its flexible work culture in 2009.

Dell made this move after realizing that flexibility was something its employees truly valued. The company had always had an informal policy, but nothing concrete. And since many employees sometimes need or prefer to work outside of standard business hours, Dell wanted to ensure that everyone felt comfortable and supported working where and when they choose, depending on their unique work style.

The HR department worked in tandem with the IT and facilities teams from day one, making sure all employees had the right training, technology, and collaboration tools they need to stay in touch and be productive no matter where they are.

“Work is what you do and not a place you go,” says Mohammed Chahdi, director of global human resources at Dell. “Our value proposition is clear and simple: To enable our team members to do their best work regardless of where and when.”

Today, Dell offers a variety of flexible work options, allowing employees to work remotely some or all of the time, and at variable hours. The program has been a huge success, with nearly 60% of employees working flexibly and reporting a Net Promoter Score that’s typically 20% higher than those who don’t. And with fewer people in the office every day, Dell doesn’t need as much office space — netting the company $12 million in annual savings since 2014.

Flexible work options can have a huge impact on employee satisfaction — and on the bottom line. Online tools and collaboration platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Airtable have made these options not only possible but simple for many companies to roll out.

But tools are only half of the equation. To ensure the program meets business needs as well as employee preferences, Dell focuses on aligning its policies closely with its culture. Trust, accountability, and results are thoroughly baked into both, and all employees are held to the same standards, whether they work in the office or not. If the trust isn’t there, that suggests a deeper problem with your culture that you may need to focus on fixing first.

2. Humana embraced new technology to ensure all its employees could enjoy the benefits of flexible work

Technology also played a crucial role in the work flexibility policies at Humana, a U.S. healthcare company.

Humana believes in being flexible for its customers, and it takes the same approach with its staff. In 2016, it overhauled its remote work policies and began to champion the benefits of work flexibility. Staff responded enthusiastically, with nearly half working remotely at least some of the time.

There was just one problem: The call center team couldn’t benefit from these policies because calls could only be recorded at their desks.

When one call center leader raised this issue with the company, Humana began to explore emerging technologies that would allow the team to work from home. After some research, it launched a pilot program in 2018 that equipped call center employees with new at-home technology that enabled remote work.

The tech changed everything. The call center team could suddenly enjoy the same perks as everyone else, and the company could save on desk space by replacing its assigned seating structure with a more flexible, shared workspace.

By making its flexible work policies more robust and inclusive, Humana has also found it easier to attract great candidates. What’s more, now that its workforce is empowered to work remotely, it doesn’t have to rely solely on local talent.

If flexible work options feel unattainable for your company right now, don’t despair. As technology evolves, these policies are only going to become more accessible. And by experimenting to see what works, you show employees that you’re committed to making a flexibility policy work, even if it won’t come about overnight.

“Recognize that work flexibility will be gradual,” says Kourtlee Gravil, director of talent acquisition at Humana. “It takes big changes to both your infrastructure and your culture.”

3. Sodexo adopted a flexible approach to flexibility to support the varying needs of its global workforce

Very few companies perfect their flexibility policies right off the bat. It often takes a little trial and error to make the policies work for everyone.

That’s what Sodexo has found over its decade-long journey toward optimizing flexible work. When the French food and facilities company first introduced its “Flexibility Works!” initiative back in 2008, employees had to submit a formal proposal just to ask for the option to work flexibly. But Sodexo soon realized that a rigid policy like that just didn’t match the goals of work flexibility.

Instead, it introduced a new initiative called FLOW (Flexibility Optimizes Work). This practice allows employees to work with their managers on an individual basis to craft flexible work options that meet their unique needs. So whether someone wants to work from their home office or just needs to take the occasional afternoon off to coach their kid’s Little League team, the flexible culture empowers them to make it happen.

By going with the FLOW, Sodexo has also been able to accommodate regional preferences with ease. As a global company, not all its employees think about flexibility in the same way, so a rigid policy just wouldn’t work for everyone. The FLOW approach, on the other hand, allows managers to tailor the company’s policy to address specific local requirements.

In Belgium, for example, managers encourage their employees to come in late, leave early, then work from home. This means no one has to face the dreaded rush-hour commute. And in India, thanks to options like half-time work and the ability to take up to two years’ unpaid family leave, the number of women working for the brand has dramatically increased.

“It’s about creating an inclusive culture where each individual’s needs are being met along the way, so long as the work gets done,” says Jodi Davidson, director of D&I initiatives at Sodexo.

Like many employees, Jodi feels tremendously loyal to the company thanks to these options. And with most U.S. employees reporting that flex arrangements also make them more productive, the business case for flexibility is obvious.

Being flexible about what flexibility looks like makes it easier for all employees to experience the benefits of these policies. Everyone will have different needs, expectations, and desires for flex work, so listen to what employees have to say before setting anything in stone.

4. Appen helped flex workers build connections, reducing loneliness and attrition

Employees around the world have made it clear that flexible work options matter to them. But flexibility can have downsides and if you’re not careful to address them, retention can suffer.

Machine learning company Appen discovered this when it conducted an internal survey of some of its team. Appen currently employs 350 full-time employees with flexible work options spread out across seven countries, and over one million global contractors who are 100% remote. What Appen found was that while the team liked the flexibility, it could sometimes leave them feeling isolated.

To combat this, the company set out to create a more connected, collaborative culture. In 2017, Appen started investing in different tools that could make this possible, like video conferencing, instant messaging, and document collaboration solutions. It also built an internal community forum where employees can do everything from troubleshooting common issues to shooting the breeze and getting to know one another.

To support this new way of working, managers at Appen take LinkedIn Learning courses that help them better manage their remote teams. Steps like this can help make changes really stick, since employees often follow their managers’ lead.

The results have been dramatic. In one year, Appen’s attrition rate dropped by 5%. Today, 80% of the company’s core workforce say they’re satisfied with their jobs.

“Flexibility is a key part of our culture and contributes to effectively operating a growing global business, attracting talent, and meeting the needs of our clients,” says Kerri Reynolds, SVP or recruiting and HR at Appen.

Making sure that remote workers feel part of a shared culture can reduce loneliness and turnover. Whether you use collaborative online tools or organize in-person get-togethers, find a way to bring disparate staff together or risk pushing them away.

Flexibility can benefit everyone — if you do it right

Work flexibility is one of the biggest talent trends this year. And as these examples prove, these policies don’t just cater to employee demand. Done correctly, they can offer huge benefits to the company too — from increasing productivity to helping you attract the best talent.

As more and more companies adopt flex work, what will set your company apart is taking a thoughtful, tailored approach to flexibility. Recognizing that it’s not one-size-fits-all, aligning it closely with your culture, and listening to employee feedback will help you create a flexibility policy that doesn’t just stand the test of time, but actively makes the company a better place to work for everyone.

For more tips about making flexibility work at your company, download the full Global Talent Trends 2019 report today.

*Image from Dell

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