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Let’s get real about flexibility & the remote option

When we ask candidates what they’re looking for in a job, they list (usually in order of importance) factors like “a convenient commute, good work/life balance, and flexibility.” And when we ask employers what they’re offering in a job, they often say “flexibility.” Cool. Everyone’s aligned. Except, what if each means something totally different in their definition of ‘flexibility?’

Can you use ‘flexibility’ in a sentence?

Candidates tend to define flexibility as the ability to work remotely, roll into work early or late to avoid traffic, or pop out for an hour or two to let the cable guy in. And this is just peeling back the first layer of the onion. ‘Flexibility’ from the candidate’s perspective takes on many more meanings, because they all define it differently—just like employers.

Conversely, flexibility means that employees are willing and able to respond to the ever-changing needs of the business. When we peel back this particular onion, flexibility sometimes means employees will start early and finish late, attend an industry event, or provide extra support outside of their job responsibilities.

These are blaringly different definitions and, if left unclear, can result in a breakdown of trust and culture, and an increase in employee turnover. Fret not. The solution is pretty simple:


The discussion between employees and employers around flexibility needs to be had. As a candidate you’ll want to ask if flexibility is given to newbs or only longtime employees, and you should talk about what you can offer the business in return for your specific definition of flexibility. As an employer/recruiter, you shouldn’t feel like you have to offer flexibility (per the candidate’s definition) if it doesn’t suit the role or business structure. But also, keep it real. Don’t slip ‘flexibility’ in a job description just to make a role sound more appealing.

If your business is in the position to give the right roles/employees a remote option but you’re afraid it will hurt productivity and make it difficult to manage teams, this next section will help you see the potential benefits.

Why you should let your employees work remotely

As the competition for talent continues to heat up, employers who give their employees a remote option have a leg up on the competition. The option gives employees personal freedom while also increasing ROI.

Consider an employee’s typical (albeit exaggerated) workday:

  • Painful commute into work
  • Battle for parking
  • Greet everyone a.k.a get stuck talking to chatty Cathy for 15 minutes on the way to your desk
  • Deal with team member’s basic questions if not also gossiping co-workers
  • Sit through meetings that should have been emails
  • Finally sit down to work but find that the open-office concept noise makes focusing difficult
  • Multitask making calls, spreadsheets, ordering lunch and writing articles, but actually just do a crappy job at more than one thing at a time
  • Stare at the clock till it’s time to leave (maybe cutting out a bit early to take on part 2 of the commute)

There’s no shortage of stories about a distracting, interruptive office where productivity is reduced. To hit maximum productivity, most people need to work in isolation. For that reason alone, the remote option sees a virtually immediate ROI.

1. Reduce annoying distractions

Yes, your employees will likely still check their smartphones and find out-of-office distractions, but they can and willmitigate those distractions. What’s more, a little internet surfing isn’t near the productivity killer that loud colleagues and impromptu meetings are. Working from home eliminates these major office distractions, and the interruption-free focus empowers employees to crush their tasks.

2. Less stress

Even if an employee has a pretty cool boss and a decent amount of work space, she still might not be able to shake the feeling that she’s being held captive when in the office. Not even a ping-pong table in the breakroom can change the fact that the confines of any office can be stressful. The good news for most is that we have this thing called technology that makes telecommuting and flexible work a possibility. Working from home is an immediate stress reducer that can affect the lives of your employees well beyond what they do for your business.

3. Cut costs

Speaking of the office ping-pong table: it’s unnecessary. In fact, most large, “fun” offices cost too much for no real reason. If you are one of the bazillion businesses that communicates mostly through email and phone, save yourself on whopping real estate and other avoidable overhead costs and let your people work from home already.

4. Appeal to millennials

More and more digital natives are entering the workforce each year, and if you want to wheedle them your way, you’ll need to adapt to their interests. For most in this group, a huge factor is the ability to work remotely.

If you still consider remote work to be counterproductive, ask yourself if the breakdown is really due to remote employees, or misplaced and disengaged ones. If that didn’t inspire the Aha! Moment of discovery we were going for, we’ll unravel some more.

Some claim working from home hurts collaboration, teleconferencing worsens meetings, and the remote option negatively impacts career growth. We say old-school tools don’t work for the modern remote collabo. Remember technology? Remote workers depend on tech tools that help them collaborate.

Remote work tools

1. Project management

Email is great and all, but it’s not (and never claimed to be) a good project management system. Investing in online project management software can help your virtual teams organize documents and tasks, share feedback with teammates, and interact with clients.

2. Team collaboration

Lots of virtual teams are scattered across the nation if not the globe. Communication breakdown can hit your team hard and fast without a messaging tool that everybody can use. A digital space that helps team members share ideas, communicate and refer back to makes collaboration a lot easier.

3. Cloud storage service

Some documents and multimedia files are too damn large to send by email. The cloud is the perfect remote trading post for secure and centralized storage, as well as for collaboration.

4. Teleconference

Not all do, but some remote teams need to have video discussions or screen sharing tools to stay productive. Most video tools are easy to use; you just create a link, share the link by email or chat and you’re up and running on most devices.

5. Accountability and Reporting

Just because you have remote workers doesn’t mean you can’t keep an eye on their productivity. Accountability tools require team members to check in via email or browser to compensate for daily in-person check-in meetings.

Good employees working with the right tools in the right role will do better from home. That’s all there is to it. Your team can work remotely and end up betterconnected thanks to advances in technology, while your company sees increases in productivity, engagement and ROI.