Getting Ahead on a Budget: Flexible Working Conditions

Why it’s time to eliminate the lowest common denominator



Colin McMahon


As we enter 2021 and a vaccine finally starts to circulate the world, it is time for businesses to look ahead at how they will re-establish themselves as they move past COVID-19. Given the economic hardships created by the pandemic, outfitting a successful company can be more challenging than ever before. Join us as we explore alternative ways to attract and retain talent in this Keypoint Intelligence blog series, Getting Ahead on a Budget.



When speaking with Dr. Allison Siminovsky of The Predictive Index, she stated that the successful shift to decentralized, remote workflow did not just depend on new technology—it also hinged on new ways of thinking at an executive level. In particular, Dr. Siminovsky referred to a phenomenon called the “lowest common denominator”. Outside of mathematics, this term refers to “something of small intellectual content designed to appeal to a lowbrow audience.” Or, in workplace terms, designing and creating workplace procedures and rules to accommodate every kind of employee, but especially the problematic ones.


You see this all the time: sick day limits so workers don’t feign illness, strict break schedules to keep employees at their desks, open floor plans so that managers can better watch everyone. Each one of these design choices is, at least in some part, created with the lowest common denominator employee in mind—someone who must be forced to be a productive member of the company to contribute. And it is thinking like this that kept remote working in the field of theoretical, academic discussion for decades at many companies prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. How could employers trust employees to be productive outside of a standard work environment?


Then there was suddenly no choice and many businesses had to scramble to adopt technology and workflow plans to allow for remote working, in many cases stressing online infrastructures not designed to support such a policy. Now, as we enter 2021 and a vaccine starts to circulate, many companies are asking: Will remote workflow continue?


As the first article in a series, this blog will argue that yes, remote workflow (as part of flexible working options) should continue for one simple reason: employee happiness. We have already written about why workers like having flexibility, but it goes beyond that. The reality is this: 2020 saw a dramatic increase in retirement among older workers. This no doubt impacted the print industry, already with an older age median than some other industries.


Source: Data USA


On top of this trend, many print companies had to cut staff when hit by the economic damage caused by the pandemic. 2021 is being billed as a year where recovery truly starts, but how can print companies—especially the smaller ones—hope to rebuild for a new, more digital economy (meaning specialized workers) when they simply do not have the salary opportunities that their competitors (inside print and coming from external industries) possess?


The answer requires, as Dr. Siminovsky suggested, new ways of thinking. To invoke some popular culture, many companies in the print industry must consider a Moneyball approach. Meaning this: It is unreasonable to think that companies with budget restrictions, with an eye on growth after a massive economic hit, can afford to attract and retain the best talent available based on monetary compensation alone.


It is a new world, one where print providers do not just have to worry about selling enough to keep the lights on, but also guarding their digital secrets (such as confidential client data) from malicious third-parties, as well as about developing and maintaining an ecommerce portal that is convenient for clients on an external side while being easily modified and managed on an internal level.


So, to compete, print companies should toss the idea of the lowest common denominator in the trash where it belongs. Employees should not be treated as though they must be made to work. Instead, they should be viewed as respected individuals who share in the desire for company success. Recent data from FlexJobs showed that 96% of employees desire some form of remote work, be it full-time remote or a hybrid working solution.



Giving employees flexible work conditions—even once the pandemic is nothing more than history—will result in a happier, more engaged workforce. It is a major decision that does not require massive investment on the part of the employer, making it a perk that print providers and organizations should consider whenever possible going forward.


Productivity can and should still be tracked. Companies do have to make a profit at the end of the day after all. However, this can be done while still having employees feel trusted and appreciated by their employers, rather than corralled and over-managed. As the print industry looks to start reloading in 2021 and moving past the pandemic, workers can no longer be treated as though they must be forced to work. Enabling long-term flexible working policies is a step in this direction.


For those curious to know a little more about employee productivity in remote settings, we hosted a free webinar on the topic last year. In our next article in the series, we will build on this idea of attracting and retaining talent without breaking the bank as well as exploring the value of employee training and growth, even if it might lead that employee away from your company.


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