I was going through Harvard Business Review last week when I came across this article by Anna Beninger and Nancy Carter of the Catalyst research team. Catalyst is an international nonprofit organization with an aim to expand opportunities for women and create more inclusive workplaces.
The finding from their latest report - Catalyst's flexibility research couldn’t have come at a better time. A desire for increased productivity and a more connected company culture has prompted companies like Yahoo!, Best Buy, Bank of America and Zappos to scale back their flexible work arrangements.
A decision like this would definitely impact the women workforce, but it is naive to believe that it would have no impact on today’s aspirational men. In fact the report presents some findings which actually expound all these beliefs and more. Catalyst quizzed 726 MBA graduates around the world working full-time in both for-profit and non-profit firms across industries —about their experiences with, and perceptions of, flexible working arrangements. The responses were astounding. 81 percent of those surveyed reported that they were currently working at a firm that offers flexible work arrangements of some kind. In addition to telecommuting, this includes flexible arrival or departure, flexi time, compressed work weeks, reduced work/part-time, and job sharing. Flexible work options are in fact the rule, and not the exception, at organizations today. Their research also revealed that women and men were using flexible work options like flexi time and flexible arrival and departure to the same extent throughout their careers.
However, the study did confirm that women were significantly more likely than men to telecommute i.e. work outside of the office over the course of their careers. So while men and women are equally likely to use some flexi work options, women are more likely to telecommute. But women pay for that. Lack of access to flexible working arrangements damages high potential employees' career aspirations, and is especially harmful to women's aspirations, thus impacting the number of women raising their hands for stretch assignments and promotions. The report also discovered that women working at a firm without flexi work options were more likely to downsize their aspirations. According to Catalyst, flexibility is not just about being flexible with time. It is also about being strategic, which requires employers and employees to be open and creative in questioning the process of how work should be done, and why.
In a scenario where virtual meeting is possible from any place, any time, it is hard to imagine a company doing away with work-from-home. Needless to say, offering flexible working arrangements is critical for organizations intending to maximize their talent pool with high potential employees and become employers of choice. In fact a 2011 study by nonprofit Human Resources Association World at Work found that companies with stronger cultures of flexibility experienced lower turnover and increased employee satisfaction, motivation and engagement.