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Flexible working – is it right for your company?

Raj decides that today he’d like to work in the west wing of the office – it’s quieter so he can focus on a major report that’s due. Tomorrow, he plans to work near the cafe for his brainstorm session, taking advantage of the camaraderie that tends to percolate there. Later in the week, he’ll telecommute from the road while visiting clients in communities across the region.

Companies across a spectrum of industries are being progressive when it comes to reimagining what makes for an effective workplace. Scenarios like the one above have become increasingly commonplace, evolving in lockstep with our mobile, always-connected business landscape.

In fact, according to a 2017 survey of 400 multinational businesses, 66 per cent reported a moved to a shared office environment with various workplace formats for staff. The trend for flexible working – also named hoteling or hotdesking – is, according to one U.S. report, even poised to expand into the stubbornly bureaucratic world of government.  

While often associated with Silicon Valley tech players or edgy advertising agencies, flexible working first emerged in the 1990s within consulting and accounting firms and some of the country’s biggest companies, like AT&T. By the mid 90s, up to 40 million Americans were telecommuting or simply working from home in this “alternative workplace.”

Since then, sharing desks, booking space as needed, and first-come-first-serve conference rooms have become strategies aimed not only to support employees’ varying work habits and schedules, but also to cut costs. While the square-foot cost of office space varies dramatically across the U.S., it is nonetheless  a considerable expense and ideally should not remain unoccupied for days, weeks, even months of the year. But that’s exactly what often happens: one partner at Deloitte, for instance, said they discovered at any point in time, at least 50 percent of their office space sat unused.

Equipped with the right technology and corporate culture, flexible work strategies make economic sense and enable greater freedom among a company’s workforce. It’s no stretch to suggest that by changing how an office is physically used, workers can become more engaged with a company’s mission and more productive. Employees generally want more control over their day-to-day, not less.

This isn’t to say there aren’t skeptics to this approach, with some companies even abandoning the idea of flexible working altogether. Yahoo, for example, banned working from home several years ago, citing the fact that working side-by-side is crucial to communication and collaboration. Others, led by WeWork, are taking a different approach to the issue altogether, offering space and services to companies that need to expand or reduce their number of desks for a designated period of time.  

So how can you know if flexible working is right for your company?

Here are five key considerations:

Significant brick and mortar savings: Companies, particularly those in urban centers, can spend north of $18,000 per employee on real estate. Those in growth mode face hefty costs when scaling and expanding, so flexible office space can support financially prudent growth by minimizing underutilized new space. Take Ernst & Young, for instance, which has saved more than $47 million annually since implementing a hoteling policy – with one new location a 100 percent hoteling space.

Grow your headcount, not your footprint: If you need more employees to support existing or new lines of business, more people doesn’t have to mean more space. And conversely, it’s possible to downsize without decreasing your staff roster. For example, in a company of 100 people with only 80 in the office on any given day, 20 empty desks can instead make way for more meeting rooms, collaborative spaces, or other amenities.  

Forecast utilization rates: The modern office is often less a headquarters than it is a venue for those who need it for specific reasons at specific times. Across InnerSpace clients, we know that nearly 30 percent of office space is either unused, or underutilized. Knowing in advance that a portion of space will be virtually empty or abandoned at a certain time of day or year can help predict usage needs so a company may proactively model its space accordingly.

Embrace a mobile mindset among talented staff: By 2023, the global mobile workforce is expected to reach about 1.9 billion people, edging toward half of all workers everywhere. Data shows that North America and Western Europe are leading the way, with businesses there embracing telecommuting and providing touch-down desks and workspaces when needed. These companies recognize that doing so means their employees can be  happier and more productive if they can have more control over where and when they work.

Accommodate employees and their individual needs: In the competition for top talent, catering to an employee’s work preferences can correlate to recruiting and retaining staff. Many studies have demonstrated the value of flexible work arrangements, from reducing unscheduled absences and increasing productivity to curbing attrition – which can cost companies upwards of $30,000 per employee lost. From the parents who need to leave early to attend their kids’ soccer match, to developers who do their best coding at night, to millennials who often seek flexibility above higher pay, bespoke solutions to the workday can reap numerous benefits.   

 

While all business strategies possess potential pitfalls, the growth and acceptance of hoteling and hotdesking over the past 25 years suggests that flexible environments can indeed work. It’s a strategy that’s certainly worth considering in order to keep up with technology’s impact on the changing nature of modern workplaces.



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