In recent years, many organisations have witnessed a shift from the traditional nine-to-five work paradigm to flexible work arrangements in a bid to sustain competitiveness, attract the best talent, and remain relevant to the needs of employees (Giannikis & Mihail 2011).
The shift towards flexible work practices is not surprising, given the many benefits that can be realized by affording employees control over when, where, or how much they work to achieve the aims and objectives set by the organisation (Leslie et al 2012). Indeed, workplace flexibility is heralded as one of the basic requirements in modern-day workplace (Hill et al 2008). The present paper uses the Google Corporation to critically discuss the concept of flexible firm and its relevance to the organisation.
Although workplace flexibility is often an inadequately understood and ambiguously defined concept despite its extensive usage by scholars and organisational practitioners (Eaton 2003), the present paper adopts a definition given by Hill et al (2008, p. 149), which conceptualises the notion to imply “the ability of workers to make choices influencing when, where, and for how long they engage on work-related tasks.”
These authors further posit that workplace flexibility is conceptualised in two divergent ways – the organisational perspective and the worker perspective.
Consequently, from the organisational perspective, workplace flexibility is viewed as the degree to which organisational characteristics integrate a level of flexibility through the use of approaches such as ‘just in time’ production systems, contingent workers as opposed to permanent full-time employees, compressed work schedules and job rotation practices, with the view to allowing organisations adopt to shifts in their environment (Banfield & Kay 2008; Hill et al 2008). Google does not employ this perspective to define its flexibility programs.
From the worker perspective, workplace flexibility is implicitly or explicitly conceptualised “as the degree to which workers are able to make choices to arrange core aspects of their professional lives, particularly regarding where, when, and for how long work is performed” (Hill et al 2008, p. 51).
Google uses this approach in its engagement with employees by strictly internalizing the assumption that employees are human resources, whole individuals with essential life requirements outside of work and hence must be provided with flexible work practices not only to enable them achieve a perfect balance between work and life responsibilities, but also to spur motivation, loyalty and innovative behaviours (Griffin & Moorehead 2009).
Flexibility for Competitive Advantage & Work-Life Balance
Flexible work practices are increasingly becoming important to global organisations such as Google, as they enable them to achieve and sustain competitive advantage by attracting and retaining talented employees, minimizing stress and burnout, reducing turnover and absenteeism rates, increasing job satisfaction and organisational commitment, as well as improving productivity and morale (Torrington et al 2008; Giannikis & Mihail 2011).
The telecommuting policy practiced by Google, for instance, enables employees to experience few interruptions and also to tailor their environmental contexts to meet idiosyncratic preferences that enhance their motivation, commitment and productivity (Griffin & Moorehead 2009).
Additionally, owing to flexible work arrangements, Google employees are able to adapt their hours to meet the business requirements set by management and also to work at times of the day when they are most productive in line with the “happy worker theory.”
However, according to the signalling theory, managers may interpret the use of flexible work practices as a signal by employees that they are engaged in personal life responsibilities that curtail their motivation and commitment toward their organisation (Leslie et al 2012).
Extant literature demonstrates that “more women are entering the workforce, and the transition from single-income families to dual-career families has raised the challenge of achieving not only work-family balance, but also work-life balance” (Giannikis & Mihail 2011, p. 417). Google has made part-time work and compressed work-week available to its employees in order to adequately meet work and family demands (Griffin & Moorehead 2009).
This is in line with the ecological systems theory, which hypothesises that “the individual is best understood in the context of the interaction between the characteristics of the person and his or her environment” (Hill et al 2008, p. 154). In the context of work-life research, the most fundamental microsystems for employees include the home, place of employment, and the community.
Consequently, it can be argued that Google is able to provide a work-life paradigm that ensures employees have access to the three domains that represent the mesosystems in the ecological systems theory, hence triggering productivity and organisational commitment while at the same time reducing work/family related stress and burnout (Griffin & Moorehead 2009). This orientation generates positive results for Google employees, their families, and the organisation.
Forms of Flexibility
Flexible work options are numerous and can be classified into four groups: (1) flexibility in the scheduling of work hours – flex-time, compressed workweek and shift arrangements, (2) flexibility in the number of hours worked – part time and job sharing, (3) flexibility in the place of work – working at home and at a satellite location, and (4) flexibility in leave arrangements – parental leave, special leave and unpaid leave (Torrington et al 2008; Giannikis & Mihail 2011). Google exercises flexibility in the place of work and flexibility in the scheduling of work hours by allowing their employees to telecommute.
Although the work of software programmers may be extremely demanding, Google ensures that its software developers do not suffer from stress and burnout by allowing flexible work arrangements (Griffin & Moorehead 2009). Google also provides its employees with fully paid maternity and parental leave, vacation days and holidays, day-time child care at Google Child Care Centre and other back-up child care centres, and free shuttle service (Schneider 2013).
As is the case in Google, flexible work programs have the capacity to build an innovative, creative and high-performance organisational culture which, according to Banfield and Kay (2008), is critical in ensuring the continued growth of the company as well as the enrichment of employees’ work- and family-related experiences. Flexibility also brings diversity of ideas and ensures that people do not resist change.
Partnerships & Location Outsourcing
With over 12,000 employees in offices throughout the world (Schneider 2013), Google is engaged in developing partnerships and location outsourcing not only in the United States, but also globally.
In partnerships, Google often engages expert global companies and professionals in partnerships to further its business objectives. The partners are provided with portable means to complete their job-related tasks and the freedom to choose which work-related environmental contexts would best satisfy business and personal/family requirements.
In its engagement with location outsourcing, Google is keen to contract companies that allow workers in diverse locations throughout the world to choose where work-related tasks are completed provided they meet the targets set by the company. This is often achieved through adopting flexplace practices as well as telecommuting (Griffin & Moorehead 2009).
Using Google Corporation as a case scenario, this paper has effectively addressed the concept of flexible firms and the benefits of adopting and implementing flexible work arrangements in organisational settings. Moving forward, it is clear that organisations need to implement flexibility programs not only to gain competitive advantage, but also to ensure employees remain productive and committed to the course of the organisation while still affording adequate time to be with their families.
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Griffin, RW & Moorehead, G 2009, Organisational behaviour: Managing people and organisation, Cengage Learning, Stamford, Connecticut.
Hill, EJ, Grzywacz, JG, Allen, S, Blanchard, VL, Matz-Costa, C, Shulkin, S & Pitt-Catsouples, M 2008, “Defining and conceptualizing workplace flexibility”, Community, Work & Family, vol. 11 no. 2, pp. 149-163.
Leslie, LM, Park, TY & Mehng, SA 2012, “Flexible work practices: A source of career premiums or penalties”, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 55 no. 6, pp. 1407-1428.
Schneider, L 2013, Google: Company, culture and history, <https://www.thebalancecareers.com/google-overview-company-culture-and-history-2071320>
Torrington, D, Hall, L & Taylor, S 2008, Human resource management, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.