As the adage says, necessity is the mother of invention. Just ask Sara Sutton Fell. Known as the “Queen of Remote Work,” she’s the founder and CEO of FlexJobs, an innovative career website and job board specializing in telecommuting, flexible, freelance, and part-time job listings.
Sutton Fell founded the company in 2006 when she was laid off at seven-months pregnant. She became frustrated during her search when she couldn’t find what she needed – a professional-level job that had flexible hours. She also became aware of another truth: There were lots of people who needed flexibility who were being fleeced by work-from-home scams. Sutton Fell decided to do something about it, and a company was born.
FlexJobs vets each company that wants to post jobs to ensure that the opportunities are legit. Even better for busy recruiters: employers post jobs for free, while jobseekers pay a monthly fee to use the service.
Sutton Fell, who also founded Remote.co and the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative, is the creator of The TRaD* Works Forum, which is dedicated to helping companies leverage the benefits of telecommuting, remote, and distributed teams.
She sat down with MightyRecruiter to discuss the changes she’s witnessed in the flex work scene, how the gig economy has changed work expectations, and how she would convince an employer to dip a toe into the flexible labor force.
FlexJobs is now more than 10 years old. How have you seen the flex job market change over the years?
One of the most positive changes is the increase in both the variety and availability of flexible jobs. I’ve also notice a change in the number of people working flexibly. There are so many jobs that surprise people when they learn they can be done with some form of work flexibility because that often wasn’t an option a decade ago. Accordingly, we’ve also seen steady growth in the number of flexible jobs being offered each year. For example, flexible job listings on FlexJobs increased 17 percent between September 2016 and September 2017.
Also, there has been a 115% increase in telecommuting over the last 10 years, and 43 percent of the U.S. workforce telecommutes at least occasionally now. About 35 percent of the workforce is freelancing, and that’s expected to be 40 percent by 2020. And 63 percent of workers say they expect that the standard 8-hour workday will be obsolete soon. The changes in the workforce have been astounding in such a relatively short period.
Another encouraging change for jobseekers and employers alike is that more employers are proudly discussing their flexible work options as a business strategy rather than just an employee perk. In just the past year or so, top companies such as Amazon, Salesforce, Philips, Nielsen, Dell, and Cigna have all announced they are expanding their remote work programs and hiring more people to work from home.
FlexJobs walks the walk when it comes to allowing its employees flexibility in their work lives. Tell me about the work lives of your employees and why offering flexibility makes sense as an employer?
We definitely walk the walk of work flexibility. When I started FlexJobs that was very important to me because fundamentally I believe it’s important to consider every person on our team as a whole person, and not just as a worker. Each person has a mix of work and life responsibilities which can never be truly compartmentalized, and so often they impact each other. For example, if you’re stressed at work, that stress can come home with you, and vice versa.
As a company that promotes flexible work, we know the benefits of and importance of offering flexible work options. Our team is entirely remote, with everyone working from their home offices. Most of our team members have flexible schedules, and we offer a mix of full-time and part-time hours depending on each person’s needs and the needs of the role and team.
While many people tend to think of work flexibility as a warm, fuzzy benefit for workers, I tend to view flexibility not only as a strategic and beneficial business strategy but also as something that everyone needs to live happier lives. Quite simply, life’s responsibilities don’t always wait until you’re off the clock.
In the last several years, our team has needed flexible work options for some pretty serious and unexpected reasons, including cancer treatments, postpartum depression, hurricanes, floods, fires, military spouse deployments, carpal tunnel syndrome, vertigo, and many others. Life throws a lot of unexpected things our way, and work flexibility can help us better manage it all. It also helps us retain great people, create a more empathic culture, and to build loyalty.
Because we all work remotely, we’ve placed a big emphasis on communication and culture. Excellent communication tools and norms are the lifeblood of a remote team, helping us to collaborate with each other and be productive.
Our company culture is built on the understanding that we’re all whole people, and we want to encourage people to share what’s going on in their lives at work – pets, kids, hobbies, travel, food, reading, volunteerism – our team is wonderful at sharing their stories. Through our company message board, Yammer, our internal newsletter, and regular team meetings, we’re able to grow and deepen our relationships and learn more about each other.
With the holiday seasonal hiring in full swing, what advice do you have for employers that are looking to quickly ramp up seasonal hiring?
Now is the time to do it! We’ve seen employers using flexible work options such as telecommuting, part-time or flexible schedules as part of their seasonal hiring efforts, which allows them to recruit great talent regardless of location and find those who aren’t looking for a rigid or set schedule, but who would be a great asset to a seasonal team. Especially for roles like customer service, sales, and other positions that aren’t location-specific, employers should consider hiring remote workers to expand their talent pools.
Some experts say that the attitudes of Millennials and the advent of the gig economy have changed many people’s expectations about work. What are your thoughts about the direction work is moving in, and do you think that the trend towards flexible workplaces is going to continue?
I believe flexible workplaces will continue as a trend and that Millennials are a critical factor – they’ve grown up with technology! They have had it integrated into how they learn at school, and they have been collaborating remotely since they were young. Many of them started their careers piecing together freelance and part-time work. That mentality, combined with the widespread availability of high-speed internet and relatively inexpensive work-related technologies (laptops, tablets, cell phones, etc.), plays a significant role in pushing the flexible work trend forward.
But it’s also moving forward because employers are recognizing the benefits of flexible work, like reducing costs, improving productivity, lowering turnover, improving employee wellness and health, expanding talent pools, and even bettering emergency preparedness. At the TRaD* Works Forum (*telecommuting, remote, and distributed) this year, we heard from companies like Microsoft, ADP, Dell, Xerox, and Cisco about how remote and flexible work has positively impacted their businesses.
The more that organizations discuss how they create and manage flexible workplaces and what the benefits are, the more we’ll see flexible work grow.
There are some legal considerations associated with having a flexible or remote workforce. Among them are issues of liability and security. Can you talk about the steps employers should take to make sure that both they and their employees are protected?
Each employer will need to approach this differently depending on the flexible work options they’re using. But ultimately, there needs to be a lot of collaboration between IT teams, HR teams, and the people managing the flexible workers. This is why formalized flexible work policies are so critical – they generally inspire much more concerted thought and clarity around what the risks are, who is responsible for what, and how to come up with security, liability, and management guidelines to address these.
Finally, what advice would you give to an employer who is hesitant to offer their employees flexibility at work?
First, it’s really important for employers to understand that there is a clear business case in support of flexible work that outlines many financial, competitive, and strategic benefits. Whether an employer wants to reduce costs, improve recruiting and retention, prepare for emergencies, lower employees’ stress and improve their productivity, be better prepared for an emergency or disaster situation, or solve countless other workplace challenges, flexible work options can help.
Work flexibility can and should be part of the business strategy, helping employers reach their goals and objectives over both the short and the long-term.
But some employers are hesitant. Some see flexible work as an overwhelming all-or-nothing proposition, some don’t trust workers to work if they’re not in the office being overseen, and others still feel nervous because it is a different way of doing things. It is definitely an evolution for many employers, and as psychologists resoundingly agree, people are often resistant to change. However, that doesn’t mean change isn’t good for us.
I remind employers considering flexible work that these programs can be tailored to each company’s needs, and that they can start small, such as offering one type of flexibility or running a pilot program with one team. This helps iron out any issues and refines the program before moving forward, and it helps to build trust and communication. Whether it’s allowing telecommuting one day each week or offering flexible schedules to help employees avoid peak commute times, employers should consider what small steps they can take to test the waters of flexible work.
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