By Jill Attkisson, Global Insights and Innovations Research Leader, and Carol Sladek, Partner and Work-Life Consulting Leader, Aon Hewitt
Americans are working harder than ever before, with longer hours and increasing demands on their time. However, the halls of corporate America are empty. Where is everyone? Despite the recent edicts of Yahoo! and Best Buy requiring employees to stop telecommuting and come into the office, more employees are taking advantage of virtual work options. Technology and workplace flexibility programs have redefined how, when, and where work gets done. Virtual work extends what is possible in a workday by allowing employees to stay connected from anywhere and at any time. It’s about measuring results, not hours or face time, and it’s about recognizing diversity—in lifestyles, work styles, and priorities.
Virtual Work: Win-Win
According to Aon Hewitt’s SpecSummary database of more than 1,300 U.S. employers, 45 percent offer telecommuting, up from 7 percent in 1991. These arrangements vary from employer to employer, but generally allow an employee to work from home or an alternate location for some or all of the workweek on a regularly scheduled basis.
Virtual work can be a win-win scenario for employees and employers. For employees, the work-life paradigm has shifted. Increasing demands in our lives and advances in technology mean there is no longer a solid line dividing work and life. Blending—not balancing—makes it all work. Most virtual employees are grateful for the blurred line and respond with higher productivity, engagement, and commitment to their work.
From the employer’s point of view, virtual work is largely about talent management. Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse, with abundant gender, ethnic, and generational diversity. Increasing global competition is driving the need for availability 24/7, and employers need to keep their eye on keeping high performers. The benefits from virtual work can be significant, including higher engagement and retention, ability to recruit from a more diverse talent pool, and reduced office space.
Avoiding the Roadblocks
If virtual work arrangements are a win-win, why aren’t more employers embracing them? Several roadblocks keep employers from making virtual work programs a success. However, if addressed early, these programs can be effective for all parties.
The Future of Virtual Work
If virtual work arrangements are to be successful, organizations need to offer them on a consistent and deliberate basis. Virtual work can be a win-win with the right employee, job, and manager, but it isn’t one-size-fits-all. Managers and employees need to be educated to make the right choices and to evaluate these arrangements on an ongoing basis, and senior leaders need to value and support a virtual work environment. Only then will the organization reap the rewards of attracting, engaging, and retaining a high-performing workforce.
Jill Attkisson is the global insights and innovations research leader at Aon Hewitt. She specializes in talent management and organization effectiveness solutions.
Carol Sladek is a partner and work-life consulting leader of Aon Hewitt. Sladek specializes in work-life, time off, diversity, and emerging workforce strategy, issues, and developments.
Aon Hewitt is a global leader in human resource solutions. The company partners with organizations to solve their most complex benefits, talent, and related financial challenges, and improve business performance. Aon Hewitt designs, implements, communicates, and administers a wide range of human capital, retirement, investment management, health-care, compensation, and talent management strategies. With more than 29,000 professionals in 90 countries, Aon Hewitt makes the world a better place to work for clients and their employees. For more information on Aon Hewitt, visit www.aonhewitt.com.