March 14, 2013

Flexible Working Works

In a landmark 2007 paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology called “The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown About Telecommuting: Meta-Analysis of Psychological Mediators and Individual Consequences”, authors Ravi Gajendran and David Harrison of the Department of Management and Organization at Pennsylvania State University dispelled the notion that working from home was bad for business or bad for employee morale.

It’s a paper I’m certain the internet company Yahoo! failed to read when they recently announced all 12,000+ employees had to begin working from Yahoo! offices 100 percent of the time effective June 2013.

What did Gajendran and Harrison prove?

Through the review and analysis of 46 individual studies that featured 12,883 employees, these researchers determined working from home demonstrated seven positive outcomes:

  1. Employees had greater control over their environment proving causality to increased results and productivity
  2. Due to less face-to-face interaction between the manager and the employee, the quality of their interactions actually increased
  3. The balance of life and work – allowing for the flexibility of life’s curveballs and family matters – extended their wishes to do a good job
  4. With an increase in autonomy came an increase in job retention and satisfaction
  5. Stress was reduced due to a decrease in commuting, money on lunches and business attire
  6. Commitment to the company increased – what we might call a likelihood to stay – due to the work from home option
  7. Distractions decreased and performance increased whilst managers shifted their adjudication on results versus face-time

flex2I’ve noted previously that I’m a ‘Corporate Floater’ working wherever the wind takes me. This geographic flexibility sees me working from home roughly 50 percent of the time. The other 50 percent sees me in meeting rooms, hoteling stations, hotels, airplanes, lounges and coffee shops. (I prefer an extra-hot double shot 8oz decaf latte if you must know) Through my travels I am constantly plugged in, constantly in touch with everyone and anyone.

When I think back to the research of Gajendran and Harrison, I often smile. Why? Because for me personally, they are absolutely right. If I was shackled to a desk or an office 100 percent of the time, there is not a chance I’d be as motivated, engaged or productive as I am in my life today. I might not even use the collaborative technologies available to me as much as I do today.

I am a direct leader of 25 people strong and an indirect leader in an organization of 40,000 across many time-zones and countries. If I didn’t have the flexibility to work from home I don’t believe I’d be the leader, employee or performer I am today. As the Head of Learning and Collaboration I’m very interested (obviously, you might say) in employee engagement. Our team has an employee engagement score of 96 percent. Each of the team members has an opportunity to work from home whether it’s a little or a lot. Each of those employees use our collaborative technologies to be productive and to get their objectives accomplished. Employee engagement across my entire organization is 80 percent and we’re on a quest to see 70 percent of the organization working from home on a part or full-time basis by 2015. Did I mention we had over five million social interactions in 2012 through our collaborative technologies?

flex3I personally believe – and can attest to – the seven positive outcomes outlined by the research above ring true for me, the team I’m a part of as well as the organization I’m employed by. There are many ingredients to creating an engaged team and/or workforce, but one that is crucial is offering a flexible work environment coupled by collaborative technologies.

Collaborative tools like virtual worlds, instant messaging, webcams, telepresence, micro-blogging, blogging, video/photo sharing in addition to good ole email helps reinforce connections to continue and productivity to swell. If you believe a ‘work from home’ program can be successful without at least some of the aforementioned tools, you are as misguided as whoever accepts hosting duties at the next Oscars.

It is in stark contrast to not only the recent decision made by Yahoo! but by countless organizations who continue to believe a 100 percent work-from-the-office strategy is better for morale, productivity, innovation and collaboration.

And let us not forget the corporate bottom line. In 2009, Cisco reported its telecommuting and flexible work environment not only increased productivity and job satisfaction, it saved the company $277 million.

Make it your mission to help drive flexible working in your work, and use it as an opportunity to build out your set of collaborative technologies.

At that point, you can cheekily say to yourself, “ya, who is working from home today?”

Originally posted to IBF Forums.

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