Recently, Toronto Mayor John Tory made headlines when he put out a call to Greater Toronto Area (GTA) employers to consider flexible work options — including work from home — with an aim to reduce impending gridlock pressure while the city plays host to the PanAm and ParaPanAm Games this summer. He also commented that it’s important for employers to consider flexible work to ensure local residents can also enjoy the Games, and serve as proud ambassadors. After all, with athletes coming from 41 countries, the world is watching!
Whether you have an office in the GTA, or not, HR leaders everywhere should be considering a variety of flexible accommodations, such as work from home or telework, altered schedules, compressed workweek and more. Let’s examine a well-designed, and highly reliable study that showed the benefits of flexible work to be significant — both for employees and employers — and debunked the myth that teleworkers everywhere are actually watching movies in their pajamas when they should be working.
MYTH: “Business continuity and service quality will suffer. Remote work hinders business performance.”
REALITY: In a 2014 study reported in the Harvard Business Review, Nicholas Bloom and graduate student James Liang — also the co-founder of the travel agency CTrip — saw productivity increases of 22% by implementing a voluntary teleworking option. Liang compared the productivity of call centre staff members who opted to work from home for a nine-month period to those who stayed in the office. Survey responses and performance data revealed that, in comparison with in-office employees, teleworkers were not only happier and less likely to quit, but also more productive. In fact, they completed 13.5% more calls than their in-office peers, equal to an extra day of work each week!
Will flexible work options typically generate positive results like these? Not necessarily, but as an employer, you can mitigate risks to productivity by evaluating and considering the following important aspects associated with the success of flexible work:
Have a policy
Spell out your organization’s definition of flexible work clearly in a formal policy, and apply the policy fairly. For sample policies, visit hrcouncil.ca.
Assess each role
According to Liang, certain roles such as call centre work, proofreading, surveying, data entry, and the like lend themselves well to remote work. A home office may be quieter with fewer “watercooler” distractions, and it can provide workers who may be on the lower end of the income spectrum with a great perk or benefit.
Plus, in these types of roles, employers are likely already tracking performance based on quantifiable measurements, such as time, number of tasks completed, calls made, words edited, data entered, etc. You can tell very quickly if a remote worker is under-performing because you can compare output to his past in-office performance and to that of his peers.
At the other end of the remote work spectrum are executive level workers. Presumed to be highly intrinsically motivated anyway, their work is often just as easily assessable because of the sheer magnitude of the goals and objectives they need to achieve. Either way, trust and transparency are key to flexibility.
Assess each individual
Evaluate each employee on his or her merits such as past performance, engagement level, level of direction required, work style, and more. In Liang’s study, the work-from-home group volunteered to try remote work, and those who didn’t enjoy it were, on average, less productive than those who did. The group was also given the opportunity to come back in to the office at the end of the nine-month trial, and some employees did.. It’s not for everyone; younger workers and those who are more social may find remote work alienating, lonely, low on inspiration, teamwork, and collaboration.
Mid-level managers need to champion flexibility
Work with your managers to help them understand the challenges, but also the potential, of flexible work by showing them the metrics to prove that business performance isn’t suffering. Front-line managers may need to feel as though they have some level of direct involvement in or least an awareness of an employee’s output.. You also want to be sure to provide supervisors with the training they need to properly coach, direct, and assess performance from a distance, as well as empower them to make appropriate decisions about accommodating individual employee requests for flexibility.
During the Pan Am Games, some employees will be excited to partake in the action, and traffic on the streets of the GTA won’t be easy to navigate. Showing up an hour late to work, frazzled and stressed out after a painful commute, is not a recipe for success.
If your organization is one that could continue to prosper and run effectively with staff working remotely, it’s worth considering the option.