The number of flexible job openings continued to rise for employees in the United States during 2015, and there’s no sign of stopping in the new year. But to continue current trends, there are a few factors that need to improve so workers and the companies employing them get the most out of the new arrangements, a new report from FlexJobs suggests.
In its year-end assessment of flexible jobs and telecommuting, FlexJobs found that a growing number of employees spend at least a few days working in their slippers from their home office, instead of heading into their cubicle. Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll found the average employee telecommutes one or two days per month, with a total of 37% of respondents saying they’ve telecommuted at some point in their career. That’s up from 9% in 1995 and from 32% in 2005, marking a 30% increase over the past decade. FlexJobs found in a separate survey that of those employees who telecommuted in 2014, 22% of them increased the number of days they worked out of the office in 2015.
According to an analysis of government data by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, the number of people who work completely remotely (and aren’t in business for themselves) increased by 6.5% in 2014 from the year before, which is the largest increase since before the recession. “Flexible work is gaining great momentum, as we’ve seen from increases in the number of telecommuters in the workforce, as well as in the number of organizations supporting workplace for work flexibility options and initiatives,” Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, said in a press release.
Not only that, but in an interview with The Cheat Sheet, Sutton Fell said she’s been excited to see many of the changes that are happening to support flexible work options. President Barack Obama has expressed his support for it, and it’s becoming a bit more commonplace across a number of industries. “Anecdotally, we’ve heard a lot of fantastic success stories from job seekers this year, and I’ve gotten the sense that people are feeling more confident that they’ll be able to find a job that fits their lives,” Sutton Fell said.
What needs to improve?
One of the biggest challenges facing flexible work is that many of the arrangements are informal, with very little official structure or guidelines. About 89% of companies say they support workplace flexibility, but 64% of companies don’t have formal policies in place, and only 3% measure performance levels, engagement, and productivity to quantify ROI, Flexjobs found in a joint study with WorldatWork.
“Without this information, it’s nearly impossible for companies to know how their flexible work programs impact the bottom line, or affect the goals or business of the organization,” Sutton Fell told The Cheat Sheet. Not only does this make the setup less defined for employees, but it prohibits companies from making sure the arrangements contribute to increased performance.
Of course, the most important step is getting a solid policy on the books, whether the company allows part-time telecommuting, full-time flexible options, or a few days per month depending upon an employee’s workload. Following that, Sutton Fell offers suggestions about tracking flexible work, which can be customized depending upon the industry. “Some of the most basic things track include: the number of participants and the type of flexibility they’re using; company retention rates for flexible vs. non-flexible positions; the productivity of flexible workers and teams; the fiscal impact of flexible work programs (how much they cost vs. save a company); and employee satisfaction (which can be tied to retention),” she said.
Formal policies required
It’s not just that casual programs don’t provide the necessary structure or guidance for employees. As millennials begin to dictate more working conditions, it will be vital for companies to have some program in place to stay competitive. Millennials now make up the largest sector of the workforce, and many of them are in favor of more flexible work options. Another FlexJobs survey found that 85% of millennials would prefer a job that allowed them to work from home (or their local coffee shop) in a full-time capacity. Sutton Fell expects this outlook to shift workplace dynamics in the coming years.
“As they [millennials] rise into management and leadership roles, the snowball effect will speed up the formal adoption of flexible work policies,” she explained. But the time to shift toward those options is now, Sutton Fell added. “If a company wants to compete for the top talent in their field, having formalized flexible work options is a key component,” she said.
Overall, Sutton Fell said she’s optimistic and eager to see what 2016 holds. “All signs point to more growth in the flexible job market,” she said. “With a strengthening economy, and more employers than ever embracing work flexibility in meaningful ways, 2016 will be a great year for professionals to find flexible work options.”