Nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes… and, perhaps, economic downturns. Much as we'd rather not believe it, economic downturns are inevitable. But in preparation or even in the midst of budget crunches, investments in structured workplace flexibility can help you turn that bottom line from red to black.
For starters, flexibility can provide a huge boost to productivity—and thus a huge boost to business output. Take the 13 percent performance improvement of newly remote workers at Ctrip, China's largest travel agency, as documented in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Just by going remote, these workers produced the equivalent of nearly six days' worth of work in just five days. And in the 2019 IWG Global Workspace Survey, 85 percent of respondents confirmed that their companies' productivity increased with increased flexibility. The fact is, working from an office during typical business hours five hours a week doesn't work for everyone. Our own research shows that the conventional workday structure makes it challenging for 29 percent of the U.S. workforce to perform optimally in their roles and for 29 percent to perform sustainably over time.
Flexibility also helps keep employees healthy and able to work—by allowing sick employees to work from home instead of in the office, by enabling "social distancing" during flu seasons and other outbreaks, by giving employees the time to attend medical appointments and time get exercise, and by empowering employees to get a full night's sleep.
All of those measures could save you a huge amount of money. Consider these statistics: The conventional workday structure makes it challenging for 36 percent of the U.S. workforce to make time for exercise and healthy living and for 30 percent employers to get enough sleep at night, according to our research. Large employers spend an average of $10,000 in healthcare per worker per year, as CNBC recently reported. And sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy an estimated $411 billion annually, per RAND. Sure, companies have been offering various wellness solutions—so much so that corporate wellness programs have become a nearly $8 billion industry, according to Fast Company—but these programs tend to focus on incentivizing wellness instead of removing barriers to healthy lifestyles.
Flex also helps companies optimize their real estate. As companies grant their employees access to location variety or independence, they have the chance to reduce their physical footprint and to enjoy resultant savings in real estate costs. As we previously discussed in this space, location-based modifications to the workday let American Express save $10–15 million per year, let Aetna save 2.7 million square feet of office space and $78 million per year, and enabled IBM to sell off 58 million square feet for a gain of $1.9 billion.
All of this is to say that instead of cutting corners during lean times, companies can save on things like healthcare and real estate with flexibility—while simultaneously enjoying productivity and output gains. (And by the way, that's to say nothing of the improvements to employee morale and talent acquisition and retention.) And the best part? It doesn’t cost you anything. Simply put, flexibility is the lowest cost, highest-impact tool to keeping your workplace—and your bottom line—healthy.