At a time when US employment rates continue to rise and the free-agent workforce flourishes, companies looking to attract and retain the best people are evolving to allow more flexibility in every aspect of the workplace. 

Work style freedom is a much better competitive differentiator than the seemingly valuable perks that are so popular in places like Silicon Valley. Most A+ workers don’t respond well to rigid rules about things like schedules and remote work

And businesses large and small are finally recognizing this shift — for the first time, Deloitte's annual Human Capital Trends report found that the most important HR challenge companies face is culture and engagement.

Rather than offering on-site haircuts or massages to entice people to spend more time in the office, organizations should help employees to be productive anytime, anywhere. A progressive, human-centric technology infrastructure supports employees’ choices, and provides companies with the agility to engender loyalty amongst the most highly sought-after talent. 

For startups transitioning from a few people in a café to a growing team distributed across locations, it’s especially crucial that this digital transformation is done in a way that gives employees full flexibility to work however they do best. 

Beyond Working From Home and BYOD

There's been plenty of talk about WFH (working from home) and BYOD (bring your own device), but those are just two small ways fast-growing businesses can provide flexibility to their workforce. There are many other great techniques for expanding bring-your-own philosophies. 

To begin, recognize that everyone has their own ideal rhythms for working, and accommodate flex schedules. Some employees work best in the morning, and some are most productive late at night. Others just want to live their life in an integrated way versus keeping specific work-only and family-only hours. 

Be flexible about physical work environments. Many people want the option to come into the office as necessary, but don’t want the headache of a long commute every single day. Nearly 40 percent of full-time workers spend some time working remotely, and those who do log more work hours, are generally more engaged, and report higher well-being than on-site workers.

During an interesting experiment in China, Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom recently found that working from home increased performance by 13 percent and reduced attrition by 50 percent. While some employees love the collective energy of their company’s “headquarters” office (which is rapidly becoming an obsolete concept), many enjoy a formal or informal co-work environment just as much. 

And of course, remote work has the added benefit of enabling a lean cost structure, which can be key during a company's early stages of growth.

Finally, make a point of understanding and nurturing diverse work values. Many workers increasingly monitor their “quantified self” and are hungry for gamification-driven data and analytics that play a role in how they perceive their own work. Others care more about opportunities for autonomous “intrapreneurship” within a larger organization. 

Everyone has different work styles and mindsets that affect how they approach their work. What energizes one person might be big ideas or building great one-to-one relationships with colleagues, while another employee could be more motived by producing quality work or optimizing detailed processes — all of these work styles are valuable and complementary.

Embrace a Flexible Culture

Even with the best of intentions, introducing these BYO strategies in an organization is never easy. Large and small companies alike should be careful that culture doesn’t become an afterthought. Form a clear plan for how to remain agile, nimble and innovative, while putting some structure around your culture. Make sure your structure remains adaptable by providing your workforce with the right blend of consumer-oriented "let me choose" freedom, together with digital workhub capabilities that help them keep up with the volume of information inherent in an expanding market.

Another key to success is the management team’s authenticity and transparency. Employees want to work for companies that project the same personality to the outside world as they do internally, and they can spot lip service a mile away. So if you are going to embrace choice, don’t do it half-way. Make sure the entire organization can get behind the strategy and support it. 

And don’t assume employees will already be highly proficient at working digitally — this will be a big enabler for your flexible culture. Proactively teach your workforce skills like collaboration, storytelling and optimizing their network. And help employees use these techniques to build personal bridges with co-workers who operate in a variety of different work styles, schedules and environments — this builds organizational cohesion over time.

Cultivate Choice for Competitive Advantage 

Today’s top talent won’t invest their time or careers in organizations that aren't forward-looking. An outdated digital workplace tends to be symptomatic of bigger organizational issues. 

The more alternatives a company supports when it comes to the factors and tools that impact how employees think, create and produce, the more likely people are to do their best work. 

Nurturing this kind of employee engagement delivers real business value, including higher productivity and profitability, lower turnover and better customer ratings. An organization’s technology should help fuel this effort by empowering employees to connect, communicate and collaborate so they can work the way they live — anywhere, anytime, with choice and freedom.

Title image "Flexible" (CC BY 2.0) by  srgpicker