How do we make the case for flexible working overwhelming, even in the most cash constrained of times?
It all hinges on how successfully you quantify the real game-changers. That’s because the case for flexible working is often more notable for what is left out than what is built-in. The real case isn’t about the property cost savings that inevitably feature. It’s bigger than that. It’s about your people being able to cope, in the good times where productivity has to meet the challenge of rapid growth, and in the bad times when productivity has to meet the challenge of cost initiatives. Flexible working isn’t just a cost-cutting exercise; it’s survival of the fittest, commerce red in tooth and claw.
But that’s not how business cases are written. So the challenge isn’t about identifying what the benefits are, the challenge is to quantify those benefits across all of the components that deliver business gain.
I suggest that involves looking at three broad categories: cost savings, people and blue sky; each of which can be broken down into cashable/non-cashable, quantifiable/un-quantifiable aspects.
The easiest of these categories to put in a business case is cost savings. This fairly well trodden territory includes savings from property when desk sharing is introduced, in travel costs as people work more remotely and in provision/support savings as tools/IT become shared resources. More spectacularly, but harder to quantify, are efficiency gains, reduction in move churn, reductions in people churn and absenteeism. These are all very quantifiable, but in most cases they depend on agreement on a set of assumptions. Making those assumptions explicit is the key to broadening the benefits case.
Then we have people. What return is there on a more engaged, more empowered, more responsive workforce with a more rounded work/life balance? How do we quantify the benefits of attracting the talent who want to work for an employer who values flexibility, of keeping that talent or of sharing knowledge more quickly and effectively? This component is huge, and I have seen organisations who have absolutely presented this component in both quantifiable and cashable terms.
Lastly, we have the biggest set of benefits of them all. I have labelled them “blue sky” because they are so big that they often never even get a mention. These include baked-in disaster avoidance, cultural change, an objective-based management environment, more collaborative and better decisions more quickly reached, the value of massive conversations and user-generated knowledge bases. Things where a number is too difficult to peg, or so huge that the case is unbalanced by it. So big that, bizarrely, they are often ignored. That’s a shame because the numbers are such that you can make the most conservative assumptions imaginable and still show a good contribution to the overall business case.
So, there is no doubt that the case for flexible working can be made in cash-tight times. The real question becomes how expansive and daring do you want to be in making that case come to life?
*Dave Dunbar is Head of Digital Workplace at Nationwide Building Society and a judge of the workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Awards.