Is Workplace Flexibility Helping or Hurting Your Company?

Originally published in Forbes by Laurel Farrer

It’s plain to see that remote work, hybrid workplaces, and virtual-first operations are the new normal in 2022 and beyond. The combination of workforce preferences and real estate savings are motivating employers around the world to rethink when and where their employees should be working. In fact, Gallup predicts that less than a quarter of remote-capable jobs in the US will permanently go back to the office. 

But is workplace flexibility the right choice for your company? You’ve probably heard the enticing statistics about how higher levels of remote work increase productivity and employee retention in companies, but is that a guarantee for your team? What if you undergo the monumental change management process to convert your operations from proximity-based to virtual, only to learn that it was a mistake in a few years? Overall, how will you know if hybrid or remote-first working is actually successful and sustainable for your team? 

Concerns and hesitations about permanently allowing employees to work from home are very understandable, because, on average, they are based on individual perceptions and experiences. But good business decisions aren’t based on feelings, they’re based on facts. So, what measurable data should your organization be analyzing to cut through the hype of hybrid working, and strategically decide whether or not it’s working for your company? 

Hybrid Success Metric 1: Employee Attraction & Retention

When you evaluate the value your workforce is receiving from hybrid, think about the entire employee lifecycle from the day they submit their application to their exit interview. Are remote-friendly application rates attracting a higher volume or stronger diversity of candidates? In engagement surveys, do employees cite flexibility as one of their favorite employment benefits? Are you able to reduce turnover and attrition by offering higher flexibility? Your  application management and HR management tools should hold the answers.

Hybrid Success Metric 2: Workforce Participation

“Proximity Bias” is the dreaded downfall of hybrid team sustainability, which occurs when some employees are on-site more frequently than others, then start to exclude or unfairly judge off-site counterparts due to being regularly separated. It’s important to solve for this inequality by ensuring that everyone that is able works off-site at least occasionally so they can understand the complexities and challenges of virtual employee experience. A manager’s ability to model best practices for hybrid meetings, notice behavioral red flags of a coworker, or effectively measure productivity and performance is directly connected to the amount of time they’ve spent working remotely themselves. So, dive into your HR software to confirm that all relevant employees are working off-site at least a few times per month. If not, analyze the results to find insightful patterns, paying special attention to demographic categories such as seniority, employment type, genders, ages, tenure, etc.

Hybrid Success Metric 3: Operational Optimization

Yes, flexibility is a great benefit for employees. But what are the rewards for the business? Any company-wide change should be a strategic decision to strengthen company profitability, so if key financial metrics like real estate costs, workforce productivity, human capital, or digital infrastructure aren’t being optimized, then it simply doesn’t make fiscal sense for the company to invest in the change. For a temperature check on the financial impact of remote working in your company, start by reviewing the quarterly financial reports from each department — compare what the averages of quarters 3 and 4 looked like in 2021 in comparison to the same time period in 2018 and 2019. For a deeper investigation (or a customization of which financial metrics are the biggest savings opportunities for your organization), hire a remote work consultant with a specialty in virtual organizational development. 

Hybrid Success Metric 4: Consistent Productivity

Let’s be honest, the whole controversy about “remote versus return” all boils down to performance — are employees as productive in the office as they are out of it, and vice versa? Employee surveys are a good place to start to collect the data that will answer this question, but qualitative responses are easily subjective. So, to supplement workforce feedback with more quantitative results, compare and contrast data from your project management system and your desk booking software (or information security system, or whatever tool you have in your digital infrastructure that tracks user location). As you dig into these reports, make sure to evaluate by location (“Are all flexible workers producing more output in one location than another?”) and by individual (“Is this person producing more output in one location than another?”). Also remember that “productivity” is more than just “output,” so make sure that the key performance indicators that you’re measuring are diversified enough to measure different types of success, such as research, networking, troubleshooting, customer service, meetings, etc.  

Analysis of these four success metrics should give you and your company’s leadership team a stronger understanding of whether or not hybrid working is benefitting your business. However, this isn’t a one-time research project. Continually monitoring the impacts of teleworking on employee experience, team unification, increasing financial ROI, and increasing productivity will enable your organization to make more informed, data-driven decisions about what is working about remote work, and what isn’t. 

Want to make hybrid work for your company long-term?

Get in touch with us.