By Mike Scannell, SVP, and Maia Germain, VP, State Street
Companies have been utilizing ad hoc flexible work arrangements for some time, often driven by employees’ desire to ease long commutes, accommodate care-giving responsibilities, or manage other personal priorities. More recently, employers have come to realize that providing flexible work options can yield benefits beyond heightened employee satisfaction, including lower turnover, higher productivity, and greater operational efficiency. As a result, some organizations are proactively implementing formalized systems for managing flexible work, helping them achieve long-term business goals in the process.
State Street, a global financial services provider with more than 28,000 employees worldwide, is a great example. Flexible work arrangements have existed at State Street for more than 10 years, initially on an individual, as-needed basis. Over the years, employee appetite for flexible work arrangements consistently grew, and by 2009, it was clear that we needed a more proactive, holistic approach to flexible work, leading to the creation of our Flex Work Program.
Initially, the program sought to formalize the flex practices that had been growing organically across the organization. It also provided a framework to help employees approach their managers about creating alternate work structures. As the new program gained momentum, we began to look at ways to align Flex more closely with our business strategy, paving the way for Flex to evolve from a disparate collection of employee-initiated arrangements into a proactive, manager-initiated program supported by an array of tools, technologies, and resources.
A Holistic Approach to Flexible Work
For flexible work to be truly successful at State Street, we recognized the program needed to be embedded into the company rather than simply an “add-on” solution. That’s why we built our Flex Work Program around partnerships with many different organizations across the company, including our human resources, IT, real estate, and business transformation teams. In addition to having a dedicated staff, our Flex program relies heavily on alliances with internal business stakeholders from these and other areas across the organization to gain insights into how Flex arrangements impact State Street and how we can best align the program with our corporate strategy.
By dovetailing the development and operation of our Flex program with the company’s most critical business functions, we have been increasingly successful at satisfying the evolving needs of our workforce without hindering our operations or compromising client satisfaction in any way.
The Building Blocks of Flex
State Street’s Flex Work Program is built upon four basic elements:
While employee engagement is the program’s primary focus and underlying driver, at its core, the program relies on a set of human resources policies. These policies define work options and guide managers as they evaluate employees’ eligibility for Flex arrangements and subsequently manage them once in place. Human resources professionals also provide managers with a vast array of training support services to ease the understanding, acceptance, and implementation of Flex.
At State Street, employees can choose from among five alternative work options that give them flexibility in terms of when, how and where they work called:
Managers can evaluate how compatible their employees are with these choices based on a number of factors, including their level of client interaction, need for physical proximity to colleagues, the job’s on-site requirements, and local laws.
In addition to a policy framework, another key component in State Street’s flexible work program is the technology infrastructure we have in place to, among other things, enable working remotely by giving employees access to e-mail and other business-critical applications from home. Partnering with our IT team, we also have been able to help keep employees connected through collaboration technology such as instant messaging and desktop video and audio conferencing.
The final pillar of our Flex Program is real estate. Changing the hours when and the location where people work can alter a company’s real estate needs and utilization, affecting its physical presence globally. In creating our program, we worked closely with our real estate team to align our efforts. As a result, as business managers determine the feasibility of Flex in their organizations, our real estate department assesses and adjusts the company’s needs for physical space, creating Flex Centers, for example, to allow employees to share workspace. In doing so, our Flex Work Program may one day help reduce the company’s carbon footprint, while also benefiting our bottom line.
Metrics Make the Case
Even at this early stage in its evolution, our Flex Work Program is demonstrating success in several areas. In a 2010 internal employee engagement survey, 67 percent of employee respondents indicated that they participate in a flexible work arrangement. That success has led to several new operating efficiencies. For example, productivity is up as reduced absenteeism and travel time allow employees to spend more time on job-related tasks.
Our flex work options also are facilitating high-performing global teams by helping employees align their schedules across time zones. In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the value of Flex was made particularly clear: Employees’ ability to work from home was one of the key factors that allowed us to keep local operations running smoothly following the disaster. Working from home also has environmental benefits. In 2010, the 520 new flex work arrangements we put in place translated into a reduction in employee travel by a combined total of more than 34,000 miles per week.
An Evolving Landscape
In today’s global economy, companies in every industry are seeking ways to stay competitive and keep their workforces fully engaged. State Street has found one solution in its Flex Work Program. In addition to increasing employee engagement, other benefits to our bottom line also are emerging. Importantly, we recognize for the success of our program to continue, we need to continue to gather input directly from our employees while also ensuring that we engage stakeholders across the business to align efforts with our broader business needs and objectives.
Mike Scannell is a senior vice president at State Street and head of Global Inclusion and Flex. Maia Germain, vice president, manages the company’s Flex Work Program.