Flexible Work Improves Employee Engagement

By Joanie Connell

surprisedA scary trend is emerging for companies to ban flexible work. Don’t do it. As explained in last week’s post about following along the fads without thinking, this is a bad idea.

The workplace is changing whether we like it or not. That is a constant. The workplace isn’t like it was and it won’t be like it is. The workplace requires our flexibility to keep up.

Why is this important? Because flexible work is inherent in today’s workplace. Some companies are trying to fight it, like Yahoo and Oracle, who have both recently implemented policies that ban working from home during business hours. This is a huge mistake.

working at homeWorkplace flexibility increases employee engagement. According to a recent Gallup study, remote workers are more engaged than on-site employees, and they work more hours too. The study found that a blend of working remotely and working on-site produces the greatest amount of employee engagement.

Those who spend less than 20% of their time working remotely are the most engaged… These employees likely enjoy an ideal balance of both worlds — the opportunities for collaboration and camaraderie with coworkers at the office and the relative sense of freedom that comes from working remotely… [T]hose who spend more than half of their time or all of their time working remotely have similar engagement to employees who do not work remotely.

On a more intuitive level, think about how the flexibility to work remotely has helped you and your organization. For example, how many people call in sick anymore? More often, they work at home when they are sick instead of taking the day off. Keeping the germs out of the office saves the whole team from getting it. People also increasingly work while on vacation. I don’t advocate this practice in general because I firmly believe that people need to take breaks, but if they are managing to balance their lives in this way, I support them.

When I was a professor and I had a baby, I made a point to spend time with my baby during the day when I could and work in the evenings and on weekends preparing my classes. Instead of 9-5, 5 days a week, I worked 7 days a week at various times. It was a great solution for me at the time and I was very effective at work. For example, my students loved it that I responded to their emails at night and on Saturday.

Now that my daughter is older, I still work flexibly but do other things, like exercise or meet a friend for coffee during the day. I still spread my work around at night and over the weekend because that suits me well. I mention this to make the point that flexibility is not only about family. People take advantage of flexible work to do many things, like go to the doctor’s and participate in hobbies. In San Diego, surfing is a way of life and there are numerous professionals who structure their work hours around the waves. I don’t know how good these folks are at surfing, but the ones I know are very effective at work.

Even if companies fight it, workplace flexibility is not going to go away. Technology has made it possible, global companies require it, and younger generations of workers expect it. Companies typically have two concerns about flexible work: (1) lack of control and (2) difficulty establishing a company culture. Both of these obstacles can be overcome with modern methods of managing and leading people. What these companies need to learn is that the workplace requires flexibility to keep up.  It’s better to embrace it than to fight it.

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