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Creating an Elastic Workplace

Human Capital Trends 2013

The workplace flexibility movement began years ago when many organizations launched talent initiatives to accommodate working mothers. Over time, flexibility options mushroomed: from compressed workweeks to job sharing, telecommuting to adjustable schedules, career lattices to career reentry. From its birth as an employee entitlement, workplace flexibility has grown to become a requirement for organizations that want to make the most of its people’s productivity. Consider these statistics:

  • Women without children would rather have more free time than make more money (68 percent) – even more than those with children (62 percent).1
  • About 40 percent of professional men work more than 50 hours per week. Of these, 80 percent would like to work fewer hours.2
  • One of every five employees cares for elderly parents, a number that could increase to almost half of the workforce over the next several years.3
  • By 2025, Gen Y employees, now in their 20s, will grow to represent 75 percent of the workforce. For this emerging generation, work-life fit is valued more than compensation growth or skill development.4

Workplace flexibility is vital for many employees and a welcome option for others. It can be just as beneficial to organizations – but only if they execute it well. That means seeing it from a business strategy perspective. Technology made today’s brand of flexibility possible, but companies can’t view workplace flexibility as a technology issue; it’s a management challenge.

Of course, implementing an effective flexibility strategy is not easy. Demanding clients and customers want to be served at their convenience. Peak loads – and undesirable shifts – must be covered. Managers accustomed to face-to-face supervision worry that homebound employees will fritter away work time. Remote team members fear they will miss a midnight email. And sometimes, employees who remain in the office believe they’re taking on heavier workloads while others take “flex time” – and they’ll resent it, whether or not it’s true. Management should be prepared to nurture and grow an effective flexible work environment over time – it can’t be left to chance.

Leading organizations understand the need for workplace flexibility, but every organization should think through and define how flexibility will work in its particular case. One size does not fit all. It’s advisable to define broad parameters that establish clear boundaries and give people flexibility within those boundaries, allowing employees to embrace arrangements that work for them.

It’s also vital to be certain the needed capabilities are in place. Are managers prepared to direct remote teams, or does leadership need new muscles? Some telework programs have foundered under the weight of poor approaches that created more managerial problems than they solved. Is the organization’s technology up to the task? What is the relationship between the value employees derive from flexibility and the value it brings to the business? Finally, when does face-to-face interaction remain indispensable?

What’s driving this trend?

We’re in the midst of sweeping demographic changes that affect companies’ abilities to recruit and retain skilled employees. Leaders who are able to balance their people’s needs with their business needs can be a step ahead of the competition in the race for talent. Finding this balance is what leading companies do. Technology plays a role as well. As mobile computing speed and connectivity keeps growing, connecting is an anytime, anywhere proposition.

Talent competition and changing expectations. High unemployment rates have not created the talent surplus some predicted. Instead, many executives are experiencing talent shortages in critical functions. When vying for top talent, workplace flexibility can be a deciding factor: One in three workers report that being able to flexibly integrate work and life is the most important factor in choosing a job.5

Digital natives. We’re all digital natives by now. Mobile technologies and online collaboration tools are transforming how business gets done – and no generation is more comfortable in this virtual work world than Gen Y. As baby boomers retire, recruiting and retaining talent from this generation is becoming increasingly important.

Workplace disruption. No longer are employees bound together by place – in the open talent economy, they can work together from anywhere on the globe. As more teams work across time zones, the traditional 9-to-5 workday could become obsolete.

Read more about this trend.

Meet our people

Tracy Haugen, Director, Deloitte Consulting LLP


1More magazine, 2011, Third annual “Women in Workplace Study.”

2Center for American Progress, 8/16/12, http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2012/08/pdf/flexibility_factsheet.pdf.

3whenworkworks.org, 2008, http://whenworkworks.org/research/downloads/FlexAtAGlance.pdf.

4Brian Amble, “Work-Life Balance Becoming Critical to Recruitment and Retention,” Management-Issues, February 1, 2006, http://www.management-issues.com/2006/8/24/research/work-life-balance-becoming-critical-to-recruitment-and-retention.asp (accessed August 31, 2009).

5Huffington Post 2010 report.

6Center for Work-Life Policy’s 2009 study, Bookend Generations.

As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

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