Boards Can’t Ignore the Lure of a Flexible Workplace

“Boards can’t ignore the lure of a flexible workplace.”  That’s the headline of an article I authored in the latest issue of Directors & Boards, a quarterly journal dedicated to the topics of leadership and corporate governance.

The article’s publication is an important milestone in the evolution of work flexibility from an optional “nice to have” HR perk or program, to an operational necessity especially with the economy at full employment.  It demonstrates that building a flexible work culture is now recognized as a critical business issue from the boardroom to the break room.

Leaders at all levels, including the board, need to position their organizations to strategically leverage flexibility in how, when and where work is done to creatively compete for talent on multiple fronts, including:

  • Attracting and retaining millennials who routinely rank work flexibility at the top of their employment wish list
  • Accessing talent based on skills not on geographic proximity to an onsite office
  • Keeping valuable baby boomer employees who don’t necessarily want to retire, but don’t want to work full-time either
  • Tapping into the growing pool of on-demand, project-based talent and integrate them into a cohesive flexible work team alongside full-time employees who are also able to work flexibly, and
  • Improving gender diversity in the leadership pipeline.

Companies can’t afford a headline-grabbing misstep, like IBM and the former Yahoo, and they can’t continue the traditional policy and program-based approach to flexible work.

Organizations need to dedicate the resources required — time, people and money –for an enterprise-wide culture shift that makes flexibility in how, when and where work is done real and meaningful.  As noted in the article, board members and directors need to:

“…educate themselves about why a flexible work strategy matters to people and the bottom line; step in and push management to embrace a culture-based approach to flexible work; and rein executives in when they are about to make ill-informed moves related to work flexibility.”

If they don’t, they risk unnecessarily limiting the pool from which they can draw top talent today and they won’t be positioned to respond when an inevitable economic downturn occurs.  Culture-based work flexibility allows an organization to creatively scale up and skinny down how, when and where people work based on the current economic climate.

Today the issue is how many people do we have to do the job, but at some point, the focus will shift to how we get the work done in a more efficient, streamlined way.  A strategic approach to work flexibility will help companies make that pivot. This is why Boards can no longer ignore the strategic lure of work flexibility.

What about your organization’s Board?