By Anna Pintsov

Vice President, HR innovation
AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company

Workplace flexibility is a topic that is discussed almost on a daily basis. As our workplaces become more inclusive, we must continue to refine our flexibility programs. During these tough economic times, some employers have answered the call by instituting new programs to meet demand. In addition to responding to employee needs, providing flexibility can be a great way to reward, engage, and retain employees. It can also improve customer service.

Despite these benefits, many companies still struggle with the business case for workplace flexibility. Too often it is viewed as an accommodation rather than a business driver. Connecting flexibility to productivity is key to gaining executive acceptance and support. We all respond to data, and productivity data is quite compelling when it comes to making the case for flexibility. It is only when flexibility becomes linked with business performance that companies will be able to grow and sustain a culture of flexibility.

There are a number of ways that companies can align their flexibility programs to business productivity.

Team-Based Programs
These programs focus on delivering business results through the use of flexibility. Flexibility is offered to all members of a team regardless of their individual needs. When initiating a team flexibility program, the team determines productivity improvement goals in advance, and works collectively to reach their goals while participating in flexible work arrangements. This approach can be highly successful because it empowers employees to take ownership of their work. a teambased flexibility program can also help identify inefficient processes and generate innovative solutions to improve performance. Such programs can significantly decrease absenteeism and overtime costs, and measurably increase employee engagement while improving customer service.

Employee and Manager Toolkits focused on Productivity Improvements
Many of us have toolkits to assist managers and employees in setting up a flexible work arrangement. Toolkits should include guidelines on how employees can track productivity while using flexibility. Focusing on measuring productivity will assist employees in using data to support the business case for flexibility. Employees will no longer need to justify the request for flexibility with personal reasons; rather, the justification will be better business results. Measuring productivity will help assure managers that flexible work arrangements maintain or increase work efficiency.

Flexibility Tracking
Once a process is in place to track flexible work arrangements, we can start to analyze the data related to performance and link it to flexibility. We can also measure changes in employee engagement and customer service. Finally, tracking data assists with the measurement of culture change.

Flexibility is here to stay. Demand will continue to increase as greater numbers of gen-y employees, who want more control over how, when and where they perform their work, continue to enter the workforce. Tying flexibility to productivity allows employees the freedom to be their most efficient while reassuring managers that the job is getting done. However, flexibility must be woven throughout a company’s culture if it’s going to help the company successfully attract and retain talent, and sustain long-term productivity results. PDJ