Perhaps, by working in the Puget Sound, I view the issue of flexible workdays, flexible workweeks and telecommuting differently than, perhaps someone living in a less congested area of the state. For the last 10 years, my firm has focused on changing the how, when and where we work, as well as, how we interface with our statewide clientele.
Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t want to have more time off? Who doesn’t like to have the option of not spending hours per day commuting when you can do the same work from home without having to get dressed up? This is not a millennial, Gen X, or baby boomer issue. It’s a quality-of-life issue for your employees. For you, as a business owner, it’s a workplace culture and employee retention issue.
Perhaps, when you are a large company it takes longer to recognize what most of us would call a “no-brainer.” Enter Microsoft. According to Geekwire.com, the Redmond colossus decided to test how receptive their workforce would be to a four-day workweek this past summer. Rather than run the test at its Redmond headquarters, Microsoft decided to run the test in Japan. (Hint to the folks at Microsoft: Your Washington workforce HATES commuting to Redmond. Some spend over 2.5 hours commuting one way — that’s 5 hours a day and a whopping 125 hours a month going to and from work!) On a serious note, the culture of overworking is such a significant problem in Japan that it has been named karoshi. Karoshi refers to death by overwork or from stress-induced illnesses. Unfortunately, job-related illness has become a significant problem in the U.S. as well.
In August, Microsoft Japan introduced the “Work-Life Choice Challenge.” As part of the program, Microsoft shut down its offices every Friday in August. In addition, employees were told to keep meetings to 30 minutes or less, avoid email when possible and, instead, use an internal messaging app. That’s a huge change for a company that is the king of email and that has the reputation of placing a premium on meetings…long, boring, time-wasting meetings.
So, what did Microsoft learn? First, they learned that productivity increased by 40%. Second, they saw savings in their energy bill. Third, 90% of their employees were impacted by these changes. As a result, the company plans to conduct further studies on work-life balance in Japan.
From the perspective of an employment lawyer, I am always concerned about workplace culture. Your most important asset is your workforce: I call it your human capital. Employees that commute less, have flexibility in their work schedule and the ability to spend their time productively tend to be more satisfied, call in sick less and are less likely to leave for a competitor. I completely understand that, due to the nature of your business or for security reasons, it may be imperative to have people at a physical location five days a week. That does not hold true for all businesses or all individuals that work at your business. The reality is “the times, they are a changin.” (Thanks, Bob Dylan.) The promise in the ’90s and the early 2000s that technology would allow us to work anywhere, at any time, has finally come to fruition. With the use of video conferencing, cloud-based solutions, laptops/tablets and internal messaging applications like Slack, you can and should explore the how, when and where you — and your team — work.
Change is always difficult but it will happen. Are you going to embrace change and keep valuable employees? Or are you going to have change thrust upon you because a rock star employee left for a competitor? It’s your call. I’ve already told you the choice I made.