Recruitment and HR services firm Randstad recently found that at least 70 per cent of New Zealand employees want to work remotely or telecommute at least part-time, with only around a quarter of employees surveyed preferring to work in the office every day. Up to 55 per cent would prefer variable working schedules, rather than set hours to be behind a desk.
"Workplace is an interesting word - what we see now is it's more about the work than the place," Keegan says. "Employers need to think more carefully about flexibility and whether people have one role or a portfolio of roles throughout their week. And there might not be just one workplace as well."
Wanting greater flexibility in hours or time in the office is not just about trying to avoid Auckland's heinous traffic but an increasing desire for greater work/life balance -- "or in some ways, just 'life'," Keegan says.
"Work/life balance is an individual thing. For some people they want to live in the country an hour out of Auckland to have a better lifestyle. Other people have been forced to live out in the outer suburbs due to house prices, and have made a choice that they want to own property," Keegan says. "The desire for flexibility is driven by different things but it's about people making choices about what work-life balance means to them."
Randstad's survey of more than 7000 working Kiwis showed 64 per cent stated a good work-life balance was their number one reason for staying with their current employer, and 33 per cent stated work-life balance issues as a reason to change employers.
"Flexible working options clearly appeal to most New Zealand workers," Keegan says. "Employers should leverage this opportunity and take advantage of technology to offer employees the opportunity to telecommute, and investigate other ways employees can work flexibly.
"It's critical for employers to consider their attractiveness [to potential employees] in today's competitive talent environment. People are an organisation's greatest asset and differentiator."
Keegan says employers are finding they have to offer greater flexibility, in order to attract and retain top talent. For example, Vodafone now offers primary caregivers who return to work within 12 months of having a baby full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months. Around 37 per cent of the company's employees are women, with a similar percentage in the senior leadership team, and it recognises that "providing a compelling maternity policy is key" to increasing those figures.
Another company had a valued employee come to management with his resignation because he planned to move to Gisborne.
"He said he loved working there but his wife had been offered a job in Gisborne, and they couldn't really afford to buy a house in Auckland," Keegan says. "His managers told him to put his resignation letter back in his pocket and they'd work out how to make it work."
He now works remotely from Gisborne, coming up to the Auckland office once a month to retain contact with colleagues and customers.
Technology and improved internet infrastructure are crucial to making remote working or telecommuting effective.
"Ultra-fast broadband is enabling people to work remotely, and technology means it's possible to use shared platforms and work in a Google Docs environment to have meetings virtually and for information to be shared and collaborated on very easily," Keegan says
The other key to flexible work arrangements being effective is making sure there are really good communication channels, with regular contact and feedback.
"When working remotely, it's important to know when you're connecting back in with colleagues and leaders.
"If you lose face-to-face contact, you lose the relationship, then the concern is that when things don't go so well, how it that going to be communicated?"
However, despite the emphasis on work-life balance, money still talks: when survey respondents were asked if they would accept a lesser rate of pay for greater work flexibility, only 5 per cent said yes.
"What we have found through this research is that the number one motivator [when choosing an employer] is salary and bonuses. The number two item, for 14 per cent, is job security," Keegan says.
"You can link that back to flexibility. It is really important for employers to make employees feel comfortable that if they are working flexibly or remotely, they have security in their role, so they don't feel vulnerable because they are not as frequently face to face with their boss."