By Melissa J. Anderson

“The two spheres between work and life are now one and the same. We have to look at this holistically,” began Cali Williams Yost, a strategic flex work expert, author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You, President and founder of Work+Life Fit, Inc.

Yost has spent over 15 years developing strategic flex programs for companies across the US. She says she’s been passionate about the issue since the mid ’90s, when she was a manager as a bank and noticed that work/life issues were impacting her employees. She didn’t have any children at the time, but she realized how critical issue work/life issues can be – and not just for her staff. It was affecting her business too. Yost decided to go back to school to earn her MBA at Columbia, and began working at the Families and Work Institute.

Now having written an award-winning book on the subject and founded her own company, Yost says she is excited about where flex is going, moving forward. She said, “There’s a lot of fear around flex work, but if you plan appropriately, you can negotiate it within your organization.”

Six Reasons Flex is a Hot Topic

Flex has been on the radar for quite some time – but it seems like only in the past year or two has it really been recognized as a hot button issue. Yost explained, “People have been paying attention to flexible work for about a decade, but recent the convergence of six trends have made it so the general public can no longer ignore it.”

First of all, technology has erased the boundaries between work and life, she explained. “Tech has destroyed the nine-to-five, five days a week culture.” Second the amount of dual earning couples is increasing rapidly. “Seventy percent of women with kids work,” said Yost. “And men and women both are realizing they need work and live a different way. The third trend is around Generation Y. “Twenty-somethings just assume flexibility. It’s not that they want to work less,” she explained. “Just differently.”

Fourth, she warned, “Elder care is becoming a huge issue. It’s going to be unlike anything we’ve seen with the need for flexibility around children.” She continued, “And fifth, as the baby boomers are getting older, they don’t want to leave work. But they do want to work less.”

Finally, she said, the last driving factor is global competition. “As globalization increases, we need workforces to be more productive and efficient.”

Flex work has been cited as an answer to all of these issues, Yost explained. “It’s like the CFO of one of my clients said. ‘By 2015, flexible working will just be the way we do business.’ If you’re not nimble and responsive, you’re out of the game.”

How Business Leaders can Negotiate Flex

Yost said the challenges individuals face in initiating a flex program at their workplace are many – but by keeping a few tips in mind, employees and business leaders can be more effective.

She explained, “One of the mistakes companies make is to think that flex is as easy as putting a policy in the books and running a few training sessions. But it doesn’t work that way.”

“First of all, business leaders need to educate their team about the business case for flex work. They need to frame flexible work from a business standpoint, as a strategic initiative – not just a way to help people. Think of it as a way to cut costs or do business with global clients, and serve leadership.”

She continued, “The next thing they need to do is find success in their organization around flex. I guarantee that managers in the organization have figured it out – whether they call it flex or not. Band together with them, present the case to senior management, and begin the process of shared discussion.”

But be careful – a successful flex program requires upkeep and communication. “Too many companies think that all they need to do is train their managers. But it’s a big mistake not training employees about their role. Employees don’t know how to make this succeed. This should be a partnership between managers and employees to make the business and the individuals succeed.”

She continued, “Then align your policies and procedures around flex. This means working out the compensation structure by rewarding those who do it well, providing ongoing training so that you’re constantly reinforcing culture change, making sure that your technology is in line with flex, and planning and tasking.”

“There’s a lot more planning and coordination than most people think,” she said.

Finally, she added, “Get then men involved right up front. Make it an everybody issue – do an organizational survey if you don’t think the men will be on board. Trust me, men are just as interested in flexibility as women.”