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How flexible work culture can reinvent your workplace

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Sonu Batra and Kai Andrews contributed to this article.

When Symetra, a leading national financial services firm, surveyed its employees to find out what would make work better, flexible work arrangements that would enable them to work from home consistently bubbled up as the top answer. And it wasn’t just employees seeking this flexibility. Job candidates also expressed this desire, with many being offered this arrangement by rival employers.

To attract and keep the best talent in a fiercely competitive labor market, organizations need to understand what both employees and job candidates seek in their work lives. Companies like Microsoft and their four-day workweek pilot, and Dell, which began building its flexible work culture in 2009 after realizing that flexibility is something its employees value, have reported productivity gains and cost savings as the result of incorporating greater flexibility into their cultures.

For Symetra, the push for remote and flexible work came mainly from millennials, who have come to see remote work and flexible hours as must-haves. With millennials now comprising a larger share of the labor force than any other generation, companies need to listen.

Flexible work programs aren’t just a policy change, but rather an opportunity to rethink the way people work. Remote work isn’t simply about doing the same thing from home. It’s a chance to automate, remove waste, and make things better for employees in an organization. It’s also a process that requires people training, change management, new technology and updates to physical space, remote work policy and business processes. Yet how can organizations embark on this journey?

Making flexibility a worker’s right

Based on survey feedback, Symetra knew it had to bring its in-office work policy up to date. After identifying key pain points and drawing up an implementation plan, the company chose two teams to participate in a pilot, in which employees would work from home two to three days per week.

Symetra wanted to make the new work policies a right, not a privilege. That meant human resources needed to bring clarity around the expectations both for managers and other employees. Our teams set up a change management and communication plan to deal with any concerns both before and after they arose.

From the beginning, it was understood that the new work policies would be driven by managers. Accordingly, managers received higher volume of engagement, communications and support. This enabled and empowered them to lead teams through the transition effectively and with confidence. They designed a series of webinars to educate each of the company’s more than 300 managers on how to support employees who took advantage of the new policies.

Then there was the technology. Did the conference rooms support people who were joining meetings remotely? Did employees have everything they needed — from keyboards to extra monitors, to space that was conducive to getting work done, that is free from noise, distractions and hazards — to establish a home office? Symetra created a hardware acquisition process that let employees select and gather the hardware they needed to be effective away from the office.

Behind these details was an understanding that the modern workspace is not just an office, factory or even home office. Today’s office follows employees into their cars, on planes; even to the sidelines of kids’ soccer games.

As the pilot progressed, our team tracked key performance indicators and pulse surveys from employees and managers, which helped to highlight areas that needed work prior to expanding the program.

Following a successful eight-week pilot, we created a plan to roll out the program across the company. The firm was divided into nine groups, each of which will implement the policy in six-eight week phases over a six-month period.

Quantifying progress

Once the program is fully implemented, Symetra will be in a better position to attract and keep the growing share of employees who expect the ability to work remotely. Thanks to the flexible work plan, the company will also be able to grow without necessarily increasing its office space.

Company leadership will be watching how the new program changes company culture by tracking if employees continue to work from home, their satisfaction with work and with the new program and work productivity improvements overall. They will also watch absenteeism rates and will study recruiting metrics to see if the program is attracting job candidates.

The future of work demands flexibility. Embracing this flexibility means not just creating a happier workforce, but also helping companies realize significant benefits to the bottom line.

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