12 Dec. 2011 | Comments (0)

In our research for our new book, Future Work, co-author Peter Thomson and I asked companies about the business benefits they were seeing from workplace flexibility. We found that few really measured the full range of benefits, although those that did were clearly seeing major gains, both tangible and intangible.

BDO USA, the accounting firm, is a good illustration. Their "Flex Strategy" gives people a large degree of control over where and when they work, and encourages practices such as telecommuting as a way to do more with less.

The business gains they report include:

  • Real estate savings -- the CFO calculates that annual savings from having people work from home or clients’ offices rather than dedicated office space amounts to $500,000-$700,000 a year
  • Rapid moves into new markets -- making use of telecommuting rather than taking on physical offices at the start helped the firm grow faster in new markets such as Austin, Texas
  • Greater productivity because people work the way that works best
  • Stronger ability to recruit and retain talent
  • Better client service and ability to compete in the global market

Why aren’t more businesses measuring like this? We think it’s because they are focusing too narrowly on one benefit -- such as employee turnover or engagement -- and not seeing work flexibility as a broad-based, bottom line strategy. HR leaders and change managers need to collaborate with real estate planners, financial officers, IT directors, sustainability leaders and customer service managers to improve the way work is done for the benefit of the business, employees and the wider environment.

Marcee Harris Schwartz, head of the flex strategy at BDO USA, told us that work flexibility was not an HR program or benefit, it was a business strategy. Crucially, it had the clear leadership of the CEO. This kind of change, which encompasses all business functions, needs to be led from the top.

The firm collected a large amount of data to demonstrate the impact. "Measuring was really important to show business leaders in the firm that it wasn’t about being nice to employees but was essential to operating in the new world of global client demands," Harris Schwartz told us.

The transformation of work presents a golden opportunity for HR leaders to play a really strategic part in the business, by collaborating with other functions to achieve greater productivity, lower costs and higher employee motivation and morale.

Can you share examples of how your business is approaching this? How can you do a better job of measuring the impact of flexibility on the bottom line?

  • About the Author: Alison Maitland

    Alison Maitland

    Alison Maitland is a Senior Fellow, Human Capital at The Conference Board. In this role, Alison supports the Human Capital Practice which includes The Conference Board Human Capital Exchange™, r…

    Full Bio | More from Alison Maitland


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