November 2, 2015

The 5 Keys to Building a Flexible Work Policy That Works

FireIn a recent survey from FlexJobs and WorldatWork, 80 percent of companies said they offer flexible work arrangements to employees.

This may not be surprising, given that both employees and employers can benefit from flexible work arrangements. Employees like the freedom and work-life balance of such arrangements, while employers can reap the many rewards that come with building a more loyal, productive workforce.

What is surprising, however, is that the survey also found that only 37 percent of the companies surveyed had “formal, written philosoph[ies] or polic[ies] to support employee flexibility options.”

According to Kristin Thomas, director of employer outreach at FlexJobs, most companies lack formal flexible work policies because, more often than not, flexible work arrangements arise “organically.”

The FlexJobs/WorldatWork survey seems to bear this out: 67 percent of managers surveyed said they offer flexibility to all or most of their employees “at their own discretion.”

In other words: There are few formal flexible work policies because many managers are still handling flexible work arrangements on an “as-needed” basis.

“Some teams do [flexible work], and others don’t, so these companies haven’t gotten to the point of making it formal,” Thomas says. “They’re talking about it, but they’re not walking the walk.”

But these employers should be walking the walk. An earlier FlexJobs survey found that more than half of employees say they are more productive at home than in the office, and that 83 percent of employees said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had opportunities for flexible work. Furthermore, almost half of the surveyed employees said they had turned down a job or promotion — or even quit a job — because they did not have access to flexible work arrangements.

To really take advantage of the benefits of flexible work, employers need formal policies, not sloppy, ad hoc measures. You wouldn’t introduce a new software system to the office without a plan for rolling it out and supporting employee adoption — at least, you shouldn’t do that — so why wouldn’t you do the same with something as valuable as a flexible work program?

Thomas says employers looking to create flexible work policies need to take the following five steps:

1. Assess Why You’re Instituting a Flexible Work Program

SunFlexible work programs can have all sorts of positive impacts on businesses, but it’s important that employers start by outlining the specific motivations behind their flexible work programs. This will help ensure that the program is tailored to deliver the right results.

“Is the goal to reduce turnover? To attract better talent? All of the above?” Thomas explains. “[Start by] outlining what the goals are and tying them to the bottom line.”

2. Determine What Types of Flexibility You Are Going to Offer

The possibilities are almost endless, but companies need to zero in on the flexible work arrangements that will support their business goals.

Will certain departments go entirely remote? Will only certain positions be given flexible work options? Can anyone makes use of the flexible work policy whenever they need to?

The key question an employer needs to answer at this step, Thomas says, is “How are people going to be eligible for flexible work at this company?”

3. Get Buy-In From the Top

Of course, no manager can implement a flexible work program without the approval and support of leadership, but there’s a little more to “buy-in” at this stage. What management also needs to do is get leadership on board with modeling the flexible work program.

“There are a lot of companies that have programs that employees are not taking advantage of because the programs are not being modeled at the top,” Thomas says.

Not only will modeling from leadership and management clue employees in to the existence of the program, but it will also give employees an idea of what successful, proper use of the flexible work program looks like.

4. Conduct a Trial Run

Employers can’t just dump flexible work programs in their employees’ laps — they need to roll them out smartly. A trial run is critical, because it gives employers a chance to tweak the flexible work program before it goes live for the whole company. Without a trial run, problems may go unspotted — until they’re affecting the entire business.

Thomas recommends that employers first roll out their flexible work programs to a small group or team of people. From there, they can address any issues that arise before anything gets out of hand.

5. Regularly Assess the Program

LeafOnce the flexible work program is live for the company, an employer should be assessing it regularly, just as it would with any other program or strategy — and yet, the FlexJobs/WorldatWork survey found that only 3 percent of respondents were “measuring productivity, employee engagement, and performance ratings.”

“Companies aren’t measuring it, and they should be,” Thomas says. “They need that data.”

Without that data, an employer can’t be sure whether a flexible work program is really delivering benefits — or whether it’s busted and needs some fixing.

Flexible work arrangements can be excellent investments for employers, but only if they’re done right. You can’t just announce to all your employees that they can now work from home if they want to. No, you need a clear, carefully crafted plan. That’s how you — and your employees — can get the benefits of flexible work.

Read more in Employee Performance

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of