If you aren’t letting your staff work flexibly, you need to start now.

If you were on the phone right now with a friend and they told you “I’m at work”, what would you imagine their surroundings looked like? Maybe you’d picture them sitting in a cubicle, or standing in a breakroom, or walking past a reception desk. Regardless of whether your friend works in banking, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, or another industry, you’d likely imagine them indoors.

A USA Today article estimates “over the course of an average day, an employee working in a typical modern desk job… may spend as little as 15 minutes outdoors during the daytime.” Further research has found approximately 93 percent of our day is spent in a building or a vehicle.

Being inside isn’t necessarily bad by itself, but the combination of long work hours, minimal physical activity, and limited access to nature makes it objectively harmful. We need things like sunlight, fresh air, and dynamic movement throughout the day to stay healthy. But the average North American job is completely devoid of all three.

On top of that, our work is becoming unmanageably stressful. The World Health Organization officially classified burnout as an occupational health concern a few weeks ago. With serious mental and physical health conditions like depression and obesity on the rise, it’s clear we need to drastically change how, where, and when we work.

Resistance is futile

While most of us would leap at the opportunity to enjoy more time outside during the day, some assume any change to our current work system is untenable. They argue employees get distracted if they’re not confined to their cubicles, or that productivity decreases when workdays are shortened. Others claim working away from the workplace is logistically impossible. Yet somehow a growing number of forward-thinking organizations have managed to do all these things — and they’re thriving.

A quick Google search for companies that encourage their employees to work from anywhere yields an astonishing number of results. Amazon, Apple, Dell, Glassdoor, American Express, GitHub, Enterprise… the list goes on. And it’s not just giant multinationals at the front of the flexible work movement. Countless small- to medium-sized enterprises and startups depend on remote team members every day.

Flexible work benefits everyone

Obviously, employees gain a lot from being free to work flexibly. The ability to work from anywhere (including outdoors) and structure their day in a way that optimizes productivity and fulfillment drastically combats the stress, burnout, depression, and other negative health outcomes we explored earlier.

That’s because flexible schedules encourage employees to incorporate more physical activity into their day, whether it’s tending to household chores, having more time to play with their children and/or pets, or being able to hit the gym more frequently. The Globe and Mail recently reported, “Active employees are happier, think more clearly, are more creative, manage stress better and demonstrate a decrease in chronic health risks.”

The advantages don’t stop at the employee level either. Having a remote workforce helps cut down on overhead costs, enables organizations to source talent from a wider pool, and, most importantly, communicates to each employee that their organization trusts them to get their work done with minimal supervision. This signal of trust breeds better loyalty and job satisfaction, which in turn improves retention and engagement rates. In fact, workers who spend 60-80% of their time away from the office have the highest rates of engagement. Maximizing engagement is a powerful way to increase productivity, creativity, and problem-solving, all of which make companies more competitive and profitable.

Lastly, flexible work has environmental advantages, too. Being able to work from a nearby café or park in your neighborhood eliminates the strains of daily commuting, which significantly cuts down on air and noise pollution, and traffic congestion. It also curbs the stress and financial burdens associated with driving or relying on public transit. With this time freed up, employees can start working earlier and/or continue working later if they need to.

But what about non-office jobs?

You’re probably wondering how this can be applied to people who don’t work at a desk. The great news is there are many ways work can be more flexible for those employees, too. One popular example is by reducing or eliminating set work hours. It may seem counterintuitive, but shortening the workday and/or allowing staff to choose when they work actually encourages them to be more efficient and productive, not less.

The reason is employees with rigid work hours tend to drag their work out to fill their shift. There’s no incentive to work quickly or efficiently, so they generally don’t. However, letting staff leave when their work is done encourages them to work as smart as possible so they can go home sooner and live more balanced lives.

This is just the tip of the iceberg

These strategies may seem radical to some, but they’re hardly worth writing home about for other brands. Companies like TOMS, Lush, Salesforce, and Deloitte are pushing the envelope even further by paying their staff to travel and/or volunteer! They see these experiences as valuable educational and growth opportunities for their employees. Upon returning, their staff is recharged and armed with new knowledge that will strengthen their performance and job satisfaction. Social consciousness is also extremely important these days, especially to young people, which makes employers who offer these perks that much more attractive to millennial and gen z job seekers.

How LifeSpeak assists remote teams

Our employee microlearning and well-being platform is perfect for dispersed workforces. It contains expert advice on hundreds of wellness topics and can be accessed anytime, anywhere through the website or app. Whether your team is located in the boardroom or on the beach, our content is always just a click away. Learn how we can improve engagement and well-being for your staff by booking a quick walk-through.