Organizations are considering flexible work programs more and more, but a key question always exists: is there ROI of flexible work?

Flexible work has been gaining momentum over the last few years. In fact, 80 percent of companies offer flexible work options according to a recent study that my company, FlexJobs, and the nonprofit HR association WorldAtWork conducted. But, there was also a big, glaring problem revealed by the survey as well: only 3 percent of these companies offering flexible work options said that they actually attempt to measure the results.  

These well-meaning companies–who are wisely adapting to the demands, needs, and best interests of the changing workforce–are missing the opportunity to measure the success of their flexibility initiatives in terms of ROI.  They are also overlooking the fact that different types of work flexibility can have different results–telecommuting options, flexible or alternative schedules, etc.–and it’s important to identify which are actually making the most positive impacts on the  productivity, performance, and engagement within their company.

My company works with thousands of companies that offer flexible work options, and the team at our sister site, Remote.co, has interviewed over 80 leading remote companies to find their best practices for remote work, so we’ve come to see that even the best flexible and remote companies are always looking to improve and evolve.

What can companies do to improve their flexible work options? How can companies turn informal policies into intentional, structured, and results-oriented programs that benefit both employees and the company? Here are three key steps to take.

ROI of Flexible Work Tip No. 1: See where you currently stand

If you don’t know where you’re starting from, how can you proceed? Take an inventory of your current informal flexible work options. Survey your employees if you have to, to find out how many people are working from home (and how often), how many use flexible hours, and how many aren’t even aware of these options. Meet with managers to see how they’re handling flexibility right now.

Our study found that 67 percent of managers offer flexibility at their own discretion, so you may not be aware of exactly where things stand. Once you’ve gotten a lay of the land, you’ll have a baseline from which to move forward.

ROI of Flexible Work Tip No. 2: Decide on your goals for the policy

After you’ve figured out your current flexible work status, it’s time to figure out your goals. What do you expect or wish to gain from a flexible work policy? The 97 percent of employers that don’t track or measure their flexible work options are essentially saying that they don’t see any major benefit to the company from those programs. They may be nice perks for employees, but what else are they good for? A lot, as it turns out, and the benefits from flexible and remote work may provide ideas for your policy goals.

  • Increased productivity: 87 percent of employers say flexible work programs have increased productivity.
  • Reduced turnover: 65 percent say these programs help them retain talent
  • Attracting better talent: 69 percent use flex programs as a recruiting tool
  • Lowered real estate costs: Aetna Insurance and American Express have both reported huge real estate savings from telecommuting. Aetna, with 47 percent of its workforce telecommuting, cut  2.7 million square feet of office space and saved $78 million. And Amex’s flexible work program saves between $10- $15 million annually in real estate costs.
  • Benefits for employees: These include things like better work-life balance, less stress, better health, and overall better job satisfaction.

Deciding which of these goals (along with any others) are most important to your company will help you measure, and maximize, the ROI of your flexible work program.

ROI of Flexible Work Tip No. 3: Create a formalized, written policy

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and you can’t measure what you don’t manage. I’ve heard both versions of the phrase, and in either case, management is key.According to our study, only 37 percent of companies surveyed have a formal, written flexible work policy, which leads to confusion from both managers and workers. How do you put intentionality, structure, and forethought into your company’s flexible work program, and what should go into a formal policy?

First, be sure to sure to include all stakeholders–employees, managers, and executive management–and understand the goals and concerns of each.  Then consider the details of who/when/where/why/how of your flexible work options. Why do you offer them? Who wants them? Which roles can work with which type of flexibility, and to what degree? When can flexible options be used, and where? How is this decided? By starting with a plan for a written, structured flexible work policy, companies will be able to set program goals and metrics for measurement, giving them the chance to improve over time.

By soliciting and stimulating conversation about what the goals are for work flexibility initiatives, you’re also tapping into a wealth of information that will benefit both your employees and your bottom line.

About Sara Sutton Fell

Sara Sutton Fell is the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, an award-winning, innovative career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance and part-time job listings, and founder of Remote.co, a one-stop resource for remote teams and companies, and the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative. She was named as a Young Global Leader (class of 2014) by the World Economic Forum for her work in technology and the employment fields. Sutton Fell is a graduate of UC Berkeley and currently lives in Boulder, Colo.

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