If you walk into the off-white building on the east end of Haywood Road in Asheville, North Carolina, you won’t find a corporate office with rows of cubicles. Instead, you’ll find an open space, where people from dozens of different industries work for dozens of different employers, and even for themselves. These people are taking part in one of Asheville’s first co-working environments, where instead of going to traditional offices and punching a time clock, they rent desk space and enjoy more freedom than their cubicle-bound counterparts.
These open spaces and alternative offices are popping up everywhere, with many companies using them for a variety of reasons. For example, these spaces help to keep overhead low by eliminating the need for office buildings and utility payments. However, there’s another major benefit that may be overlooked—the degree to which they can improve work-life balance for your employees, thus improving the culture of your entire organization. And, as it turns out, work-life balance is exactly what most employees are seeking, whether that’s manifested in a co-working space or in more flexible hours.
The Importance of Balance
About one in three employees now reports not having enough work-life balance. This can have a direct impact on company culture and employee turnover, as employees who feel that they’re always at work and have no free time are usually dissatisfied.
A lack of work-life balance is now one of the top five reasons that people leave their jobs. Consequently, many companies are responding by trying to find ways to give employees more time off, and help them work more efficiently so they won’t have to work long, late hours. However, sometimes extra work can’t be avoided, making it difficult to create a dividing line between work and life.
So why not go the other way? Instead of defining the line between work and life, how about blurring the line and making life a part of the work day? This process is already working well for the country’s happiest workers: the self-employed.
Taking a Lesson from the Self-Employed
Year after year, the self-employed beat out regular wage earners when it comes to workplace happiness. Statistically, about 50% of employees who work in regular jobs are dissatisfied with their current employment, compared to just 5% of self-employed workers.
What’s with the big discrepancy? Is it because self-employed workers work less and earn more? Not even close. The self-employed make wages that are comparable to that of their regular counterparts, while working more hours per week. Despite that, these self-employed workers are usually satisfied in their positions, while many other workers are not.
Why are they so happy? To answer that, we need to look at the intangible benefits of self-employment. These workers manage their own hours and have more freedom. They don’t have to clock in, sit in a cubicle, or answer to a boss. Most of all, they work because they want to work. These self-employed workers aren’t happy because they have a lot of time off. They’re happy because they found a way to blur the line between life and work, making that work-life balance unnecessary.
Of course, it would be highly impractical to suddenly switch all workers to independent contractors—not to mention, it would miss the point. The point here is that open office spaces like the one in Asheville are good for workers because they allow them more freedom and control over their days. While they still work for someone else, they have the opportunity to be more autonomous about their time, allowing them to feel like they have a work-life balance, even when they’re working.
How Employers Benefit from More Employee Freedom
Instead of worrying about giving employees more time off, simple adjustments in scheduling and work spaces can help improve work-life balance while increasing productivity.
Coworking Space: Coworking space is one of the hottest trends for startups, and its benefits are being realized by both traditional and established companies. Renting a space for a handful of employees, or even just your one or two employees who telecommute, provides them with a dedicated workspace outside of the house without being stuck in an office. Coworking spaces bring together a lot of industries, which means employees have a chance to talk to creative and innovative types from all over the place, bringing in new ways of thinking and problem-solving. These spaces keep workers motivated and energized, all while reducing your costs.
Hybrid Floor Plan: Cubicles were originally designed for privacy, but now they are seen as oppressive. They limit communication and stifle creativity. Open floor plans foster more discussion and openness. Of course, there are those who want more privacy, but some companies offer both: space for collaboration and private areas for quieter work. Smart companies will provide a mix of private work stations and allow room for open collaboration.
Flex Time: The nine-to-five workday is going the way of the three-martini lunch. In a global economy, where you can have employees in Charlotte, Chicago, and Shanghai, strict hours might not even make sense, and won’t always fit your employees’ lifestyles. Offering flex time is a great solution. Many companies are creating a set of core hours that employees must be in the office, and then allowing those employees to adjust their schedules around those hours. This gives them the opportunity to do the things they need to do, without having to ask for time off. It works well for the way we live today.
Telecommuting: Consider a large travel agency that allowed about half of their employees to work from home instead of coming into the office. While many would believe that productivity would go down, it actually went up—by about 13%. Telecommuting allows workers to shrug off the stress of the commute, with its long drives and crowded trains. For many, it lets them sleep longer, so they are more rested. They are also able to spend more time with families, reducing stress and allowing them to focus more on work during crucial hours.
The key to work-life balance isn’t just giving employees more time off. Instead, it’s about increasing flexibility by allowing employees more control over the hours they work, where they work those hours, and the time of day when those hours occur. Many of the employees who want work-life balance aren’t looking for weeks of vacation time. Instead, they’re looking for the flexibility that will allow them to mold their work hours around their lives.
Better Balance Benefits Everyone
When employees are happier in the workplace, turnover is lower and the company gets the benefit of added productivity. Adding flexibility to your employees’ schedules and allowing them to work outside of the office can go a long way towards improving company culture. This isn’t “soft stuff” and improved culture means employees coming to work with more heart and more drive, which is better for everyone involved.
If your company culture could use a makeover, check out the Culture Connection Program from Applied Vision Works. A company culture can always be improved and our 15 culture principles can help you find areas for improvement in your own organization. To learn more about how Applied Vision Works can help, contact us today.