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Workplace flexibility and the C-suite — it’s about winning

4 min read


As the  one-year anniversary of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s controversial decision to reel in all employees working from home is quickly approaching, I contend that Yahoo’s problem wasn’t remote work itself, but rather the exploitation and mismanagement of it. Flexible work solutions can and do work with proper strategy and execution.

More than ever, work is being viewed as something people do rather than a place they necessarily go, and the sooner C-suite executives accept this paradigm, the better positioned they’ll be for the workplace of the present and the future. Here are five critical pieces of the puzzle for executives to take into account when transitioning to a formal flexible workplace strategy:

Involve all relevant constituencies

Contrary to popular misconception, flexibility is not just a human resources issue. In addition to the C-suite and human resources, functional departments that leadership must involve in the creation of a flexible-workplace strategy and concomitant policies include IT, legal, finance, marketing and internal communications.

Define success up front

As with any initiative, executives should seek tangible benefits from the work-flex program, and criteria for evaluating return on investment must be defined in advance. Leaders must decide how and how often the flex-work program will be monitored and evaluated overall — by division, team and individual contributor. Quantitative measures for evaluation include productivity metrics, recruiting and retention statistics, employee-engagement survey results, revenue growth and cost savings. A combination of metrics may be right for your organization.

Communication is key

Strategic communication relating to your flexibility program is critical for aligning external and internal branding and messaging. Google, Apple, Zappos and Patagonia are each examples of exceptional companies whose brands and cultures are co-created. Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, has written, “The new ‘power couple inside the best companies … was an iron-clad partnership between marketing leadership and HR leadership.” In addition, transparent, precise and ongoing communication about the program, eligibility requirements and expectations must cascade from leadership throughout the organization.

Be the change you want to see

The biggest barrier to flexibility has always been leadership not walking the talk. If there isn’t authentic, strong support and commitment from the top down, any flexibility program will be futile. Therefore, a tone that emphasizes results over face time must be set and reinforced at the top. Flexible workplaces that thrive are ingrained in the organization’s defining philosophy and are viewed as an integral part of overall culture and people-management strategy.

Watch out for the devil in the details

As said at the outset, this is where Yahoo’s strategy fell apart: somewhere along the way, their employees started running the show. Once you have developed a flex-work strategy, put equal thought into implementation and ongoing execution. How will you screen new and existing employees in terms of qualifications, work ethic and soft skills? How will you train leaders to manage flex-workers? How will you train workers to succeed in the new context? How will you hold people accountable? Have you provided your people with the best technology for productivity, communication and collaboration?

Flex-work is not a fleeting trend; it is here to stay. The good news is that business benefits can be tremendous when done properly. For example, we see meaningful improvements in employee productivity, engagement, ability to attract top talent, profitability and business scalability. Also, we see the following welcomed reductions: turnover, absenteeism, real estate costs, carbon footprint, baby boomer brain drain, health care costs and travel expense.

A 2010 study conducted by Workshifting found a 27% average rise in productivity among telecommuters (PDF). Wouldn’t you like your organization’s performance to look like that of Google? Or SAS, which boasts a 38-year streak of revenue growth, employee turnover of less than 4% versus an industry average exceeding 15%, and savings of as much as $70 million a year just in hiring and training costs? Remember, flexibility is not about giving something up; it’s about winning.

Shani Magosky is an executive coach and flexible-workplace consultant, having worked in numerous industries, for venerable institutions and unknown startups, in a range of economies from bubble to recession, and in revenue-producing, advisory, and senior managerial roles. Previously, she worked at Goldman Sachs, at a local TV station in Vail, Colo., and as chief operating officer/chief financial officer of an all-virtual international marketing company. Her firm, Vitesse Consulting, helps companies accelerate development of leaders, engage employees, and improve performance. She can be reached at [email protected] or (970) 376-1860.