Why Flex Work Is the Future of Work

Madeline Jacobson
Madeline Jacobson
5 mins
father at home with kids in flexible work environment

Over the last few months of social distancing, you’ve probably seen plenty of articles about remote work pop up on your news feeds: advice on how to manage remotely, tips for staying productive while working from home, predictions that remote work is here to stay (in a much bigger way than it ever has been before). We’ve even written about how to stay engaged with remote team members on our blog.

Many businesses have already announced that they’ll allow their employees to continue working from home through the end of 2020. Twitter has announced that they’ll allow their employees to work from home permanently, while Facebook says that they plan to make tens of thousands of jobs remote in the next decade. 

We’re seeing a fundamental shift in the way people work, but it’s not just about going remote. It’s about giving people the ability to work when, where, and how they’re most productive: something that we call flex work.

What is flex work?

Flex work is a concept and new operating reality for businesses that are not constrained by any definitive physical workplace location. Businesses that adopt a flex work model are powered by a not-always-centralized workforce of employees who can successfully work when, where, and how they need. 

What’s the difference between flex work and remote work?

Flex work and remote work have some overlap, but there are also key differences in their definitions.

Remote work refers to the practice of working outside of a corporate office. It could mean working from home, a coffee shop, a co-working space, or even working while traveling. Remote employees may work during a set of agreed-upon core business hours or they may have the freedom to set their own schedule. 

Flex work is a model that gives workers flexibility in determining when and where they work. An employee might choose to work remotely part of the time—or even full time—in a flex work environment. Ideally, employees are able to help determine elements of the work environment and schedule that are most conducive to their productivity. 

Why is flex work the new normal?

Demand for flexible work arrangements was high even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 90 percent of U.S. workers surveyed by Global Workplace Analytics said they’d like flex work options, with the ability to work on collaborative tasks in an office and concentrative tasks at home. Another study reported that 77 percent of millennials say they are more productive with flexible work arrangements.

However, while flex work was growing in popularity with employees, we didn’t see a major shift from employers until the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of people to start working from home out of necessity. In many cases, employees weren’t just working from home—they were juggling other responsibilities, such as caring for children or elderly relatives, at the same time. As a result, many employees and employers had to adapt to a reality where everyone was working from different locations and potentially at different times.

Suddenly shifting to a new operating model—especially in the midst of a global pandemic—has been an understandably stressful experience for many, but at the same time, many employees and employers have discovered the benefits of flex work. And, now that businesses have seen that employees can still be productive in a flex work environment, they’re much more likely to support flexible work arrangements going forward.

As Greg Caplan, CEO of work-travel company Remote Year, put it: “Companies that don’t allow remote work already are going to have to continue supporting it going forward, now that they have proven to themselves that it works.” 

What are the benefits of flex work for employees?

It shouldn’t be surprising that flexible work arrangements are in demand, considering some of the many benefits for employees:

  • Time Savings. Cutting out the daily commute can offer huge time savings, especially considering the average American commuter spends close to an hour in transit every workday. 
  • Increased Productivity. Having the option to work from home or choose their work hours allows employees to reduce interruptions and increase productivity on projects that require their full concentration. One Stanford study found that a Chinese company that conducted a nine-month work-from-home experiment saw a 13 percent increase in productivity for employees who were allowed to work remotely. Another study found that while people perform “dull” tasks better in an office setting, they’re able to work more productively on tasks that require creativity when working from home.
  • Greater Autonomy. Flex work arrangements require leaders to let go of any desires to micromanage and trust employees to get their work done while they’re out of sight, ultimately giving employees a greater sense of autonomy. And multiple studies have linked greater employee autonomy to greater job satisfaction.
  • Less Burnout. When employees are more satisfied with their job, they’re also less likely to get burnt out and leave for another job. Flex work isn’t a magic bullet that can completely eliminate feelings of burnout, but it can help by allowing employees to work when and where they feel the most productive, rather than requiring them to sit at a desk from 9 to 5.

What are the benefits of flex work for employers?

While flex working is often viewed as a perk for employees, it’s much more than that. Flex work has the power to deliver significant, long-lasting benefits to businesses. For many organizations, these benefits are likely to be the catalysts that cause them to pursue a long-term flexible work structure.

  • Ensured Continuity of Operations. As the COVID-19 global pandemic proved, businesses that can let employees work remotely need to be prepared to do so in the event of unplanned disruptions. Three-quarters of people who can work remotely say that they could continue to work in the event of a disaster, as opposed to just 28 percent of people who can’t work remotely.
  • Reduced Overhead Costs. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that employers save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter (i.e. someone who splits their time between their home and office) per year. These savings reflect a combination of factors, including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, better disaster preparedness, and lower real estate costs. 
  • Reduced Employee Turnover. The greater autonomy that employees experience with flexible work arrangements promotes greater job satisfaction and reduces the risk of turnover. According to Global Workplace Analytics’ estimates, a company of 500 people that allows employees to work remotely half the time could save close to $400,000 a year due to increased retention. 
  • Access to a Larger Talent Pool. When employers aren’t limited to hiring job seekers in specific geographic areas, they can tap into a much larger talent pool. And companies that offer flexible working arrangements are likely to attract more overall job candidates—and a more diverse talent pool—than those who require employees to work in an office. 

The future of flex work is here

Successfully adapting to a flex work model requires commitment on the part of both employers and employees, but the positive impact on morale, productivity, and business efficiencies make it overwhelmingly worthwhile. The future of flex work is here, and the sooner organizations adapt to reflect that, the faster they will realize the long-term value to their business that comes with it.

May 27, 2020

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