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Does Employee Flexibility Hurt Company Productivity?

As the COVID-19 pandemic surged, companies of all sizes were forced to shutter offices, create remote work plans, and allow employees to have the flexibility to work from home. At the same time, leadership and management teams fretted over productivity concerns and cultural hurdles from their at-home workforce. But as the larger concerns around the pandemic subsides, the balance (or lack thereof) between providing employee flexibility vs maintaining company productivity takes center stage for HR.

While it’s highly publicized that white-collar workers are expecting, or demanding, more flexibility and/or remote work options, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that this isn’t just limited to a segment of the workforce. Latest research shows blue-collar employees are also demanding flexible options for the workforce. And beyond even just professional distinctions, this quandary extends across age, demographics and geographics.

“75% of Gen Z’ers are prioritizing workplace flexibility as their #1 employee benefit.”

Flex Jobs

Online retail companies like Amazon launched programs like Family Flex in 2021 to provide their frontline employees with more flexibility, including the ability to create their own “anytime shifts” schedule.

Logistics supplier Geodis reported more than 110,000 hours of work through the company’s flexible shift program, using a phone app called Shyft.

“Of more than 10,000 workers surveyed, 94% want to set their own hours and flexibility, ranking second only to pay in terms of job satisfaction.”

Future Forum

And yet, concerns persist across the enterprise that offering employees flexibility for remote work options will directly and adversely affect company productivity. This transitive theory does imply a lack of trust, that employees not working on-site, within a group, or under the supervision of a manager will lead to a decline in the company’s performance. Rather than seeking solutions to offset these concerns, many companies have opted to adopt stricter return-to-office and on-site working requirements.

It is true that remote work can have both positive and negative effects on productivity. If a leadership or management team trust their workforce, remote work can increase productivity by allowing employees to work in an environment that is comfortable to the employee, thus improving work-life balance. On the other hand, remote work is not entirely free from distractions, and extended absence from a workplace can create feelings of isolation and disconnection from the company culture. Managers may also find it difficult to perform their job without the ability to directly monitor employee productivity.

Ultimately, it’s too soon to tell how much company productivity and performance are impacted negatively (or positively) by remote work flexibility. Many companies see-saw between stricter or relaxed policies around work-from-home, while other companies have opted to stay in the middle with hybrid working policies. And there are even some companies that were fully on-site before the pandemic, and have since switched to a fully off-site policy due to the cost savings.

But whether remote, flexible, in-office only or a hybrid model, a clear and focused communication strategy is the most effective method to engage employees on-site or off-site. Employees that have the option to work off-site or remotely need to maintain a tangible connection to their employer in order to feel a sense of culture and value. HR content and communications, when written and designed with the remote, hybrid or in-office workforce in mind, can be instrumental in engaging that particular employee audience.

For companies that have flexible remote work policies, HR content should focus on communicating clear guidelines and expectations, which helps to ensure those employees feel they have the resources and support they need to be successful. This, in turn, helps to promote productivity and a desire to achieve individual success on behalf of their employer, thus leading to better business outcomes. Management teams should receive content designed to promote regular check-ins and communications, as well as valuable education, tips or resources to help with the remote monitoring of their employee progress, which helps to mitigate the potential negative effects of remote work on productivity. Compelling videos, infographics and microsites can move the needle dramatically in instilling within remote employees a sense of a unique company culture, that is not beholden to physical walls, but connects employees inclusively and makes each feel valued no matter where they are working.

While HR content and communications is sometimes perceived as only having “off-the-shelf” value – ie. educating employees around their benefits, compensation, onboarding, and so on, personalized and well-designed content and communications can be precisely conceived to help support a company’s current policies, no matter the working arrangement it has with their employees. HR content and communication strategy is just beginning to build long-term equity in the ongoing mission for a positive and successful *remote* employee experience.

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