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Whether they’ve been working remotely for the last two years or not, many employees have come to expect a certain level of flexibility in their jobs. So much so that more than 70% of employers have decided to offer more flexibility than they did before the pandemic. 

Here’s a closer look at why flexibility is critical to compete for talent and retain current employees, as well as how to make the most of remote work and other flexible options.

The pros and cons of remote work

At the core of the flexibility conversation is the ability to work remotely. And it’s becoming somewhat of a dealbreaker for working adults. Three in ten (30%) would consider seeking out another job if their employer asked them to work from the office full time, and this percentage is higher among parents and employees under the age of 35. This means employers who welcome remote work will find it easier to retain employees. 

And as more companies offer remote work opportunities, they’re discovering its many other benefits, including:

  • Greater volume of applicants: Job seekers are increasingly looking for remote positions. Glassdoor noted a 360% increase in job searches for remote positions between June 2019 and June 2021. And more than half of employers that offer such options report that it has boosted their talent acquisition efforts.
  • Better workforce diversity: Remote work allows employers to expand their talent pool beyond their local workforce and increase the diversity of their team. Remote work improved workforce diversity for 65% of companies.
  • Lower operating costs: The annual cost of office space per employee averages $18,000 — having fully remote employees eliminates that expense. More than 40% of employers have credited remote work with reducing their operating costs.  

But shifting to remote work doesn’t come without its share of challenges, which may not make it a good fit for some companies. If other employees are working in an office, for example, remote workers may feel left out or left behind. A lack of face-to-face interaction may also cause them to feel lonely or isolated, impact their relationships with colleagues, and make it more difficult to work collaboratively. 

To strengthen communication and keep employees from feeling disconnected, employers may have to implement team-building technologies and find creative ways to connect virtually. It also helps to ensure new hires are self-motivated and capable of and comfortable with working more independently.

In some cases, remote work can unfortunately widen gender gaps. Because more women are shouldering the burden of caregiving or childcare at home, women are 26% more likely than men to apply to remote jobs. And with 42% of supervisors sometimes forgetting to include remote workers when assigning tasks, this may ultimately lead to remote employees being overlooked for raises, promotions, and other beneficial opportunities.

And while many employees can use flexibility to achieve a better work-life balance, some remote workers may feel like they’re “always on” if their office is at home. Establishing and sticking to “office hours” can help them better maintain separation between the two. 

What to do when remote work doesn’t work

Of course, there are plenty of roles and industries that aren’t suitable for remote work (e.g., food services, construction, healthcare) and jobs that tend to be more meaningful and effective when completed in person (e.g., counseling, teaching). 

But flexibility isn’t just about remote work. Essentially, employees are really looking for more choices and control over where, when, and how they work. 

Flexibility in scheduling may allow employees who are parents or have caregiving responsibilities to continue working non-remote jobs. But all employees will welcome a system that makes it easy to self-schedule, fill in for or switch shifts with other employees, and request time off. This system can better allow employees to take time out of the workday to run personal errands or go to appointments while making sure someone can cover for them.

There may be other opportunities to boost flexibility in on-site jobs, including:

  • Providing more opportunities for employees to move between or into other roles, tasks, or work sites, as well as chances to move up within the company and further develop their careers.
  • Taking employee suggestions for different, easier, or more effective ways of doing their work. This could mean investing in new technologies that ease the tedious, hazardous, or challenging portions of the job.
  • Conducting training in whatever way works best for employees — whether they prefer to complete training on the job, off-site, or virtually at their own pace.
  • Offering customized benefits plans so employees can select what benefits they need and what they can do without.
  • Communicating according to employee preferences. For example, using phone calls for employees that aren’t as comfortable with texts and email. Or checking in with them more or less frequently, depending on what they need to be successful.

Employees might have other ideas on how to maximize flexibility, so it’s always a good idea to bring them into the conversation. And trusting them with more control over the way they work could make all the difference in whether they stay or start looking for another job.