A new randomized controlled trial conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota and MIT Sloan School of Management has added to the growing evidence that flexible work arrangements contribute to workers being happier, healthier and more productive.
The study recruited more than 700 workers from the IT department of a Fortune 500 company. The control group worked under the company’s pre-existing policies while the treatment group received training in practices designed to improve their sense of control over their work, and focused on results rather than time spent at work.
The practices included reorganising work schedules, working from home more often, rethinking the amount of time spent in meetings, using instant messaging for communication, and anticipating periods of high demand. Managers received training in supporting the professional development of their workers, and understanding their personal circumstances.
At the conclusion of the 12 month study the treatment group reported having greater control over their work, more support from their bosses and spending more time with their families. They also reported greater job satisfaction, and less stress and burnout than workers in the control group. They also showed fewer symptoms of psychological distress.
The research is groundbreaking in that it is the first to test flexible work arrangements using a randomized controlled trial – the gold standard for this type of study.
As much as I like the concept of Out of Office work, I also admire people who are transforming the traditional office. In this respect, Deloitte’s new office building in Amsterdam might be a glimpse into the future of offices.
- It’s eco-friendly (lights dim automatically in empty offices)
- The coffee machine knows how you like your coffee
- You can order in meals for your team when working late
- You get assigned a desk when you walk in (based on your schedule for the day, not just on what happens to be available).
As 2015 draws to a close, organisations are planning for the new year and beyond. What will 2016 hold for Out Of Office workers and distributed teams? Jared Lindzon looks at six emerging trends that he predicts will have an impact in the coming year:
- Remote-First Businesses: enabled by advancements in communication technology, the remote-first structure provides significant advantages over traditional organisational hierarchies.
- The Rise Of Independent Consultants: highly specialised consultants, who were previously only found in large consulting firms, are moving to the freelance market.
- Less PowerPoint, More Video: the cost of producing video and motion graphics has fallen significantly, ushering in a shift away from static presentations to more dynamic formats.
- Work-Life Balance, Revisited: a shift to work-life integration. Organisations will need to focus on making work more meaningful and rewarding for their workers.
- New Leadership Expectations: leaders will be expected to be more inspirational, collaborative, and results-focused.
- Consumer-Grade Design as the New Normal: good design is valued when selling products to consumers. It must be similarly valued in the tools and systems used by teams and workers.
The whole concept of work-life balance has changed, especially in this 24/7 “always on” world. Out of Office workers need to find their own balance between their work life and their outside-work life, but this is increasingly important for in-office workers as well.
Sharif Khalladi talks about the importance of “work-life integration” rather than “work-life balance”. In other words, “instead of separating work and home life, they intertwine and coexist side by side.”
In general, we are fans of Out of Office work, and enthusiastically recommend it for workplaces where it’s feasible. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody. In the article “10 Reasons for Startups to Be Wary of Outsourcing”, Marty Zwilling cautions new businesses against outsourcing too much of their work. Many of these things apply to other Out of Office work as well, even if your organisation isn’t a startup company and even if you’re talking about telecommuting rather than outsourcing.
Here are the 10 common misconceptions Zwilling cites about outsourcing:
- “With outsourcing, we won’t need many managers.”
- “With the high-speed Internet, our workers can be anywhere in the world.”
- “Let’s cut costs by outsourcing all from this point forward.”
- “Fixed price bidding is the only effective outsourcing model.”
- “Fair compensation is the lowest price we can negotiate.”
- “I expect everyone working for me to adopt my culture.”
- “Current workers will manage the outsourcing as I grow.”
- “My IT budget will go down as remote users use their own tools.”
- “Utilization and personal growth of virtual employees is not my problem.”
- “I’ll outsource software development, since I don’t understand it.”
If you’re thinking about allowing some of your team to work Out of Office, and you can identify some of these beliefs in your way of thinking, it might be worth thinking again. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it; just question your thinking in these areas.
One of the biggest reasons for the growth in Out of Office work is the Cloud – in other words, having your stuff on the Internet rather than on local computers or internal networks. In his article “On cloud nine: 9 arguments for the cloud”, Andrew Timms lists nine benefits of the Cloud for businesses in general, even without taking the Out of Office angle:
- Cost Efficiency
- Business Continuity
- Flexible Work Arrangements
- Lower Total Cost of Ownership
- Added Security
- Less On-Call Requirements
- Reduced Maintenance Work
- Increased Operational Efficiency
If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you probably don’t need convincing of the merits of working Out Of Office but perhaps you know someone who is stuck in the old ways of thinking. Well, if you want to change their mind then Jacob Morgan has conveniently compiled a list of reasons we no longer need traditional offices:
- Collaborative Technologies allow workers to connect to work and colleagues anywhere they have an Internet connection.
- A New Generation of Workers, the so-called Millennials, have grown up with social networks and find connecting online comfortable and natural.
- Organisations offering flexible work arrangements are More Attractive Workplaces that help recruit and retain the best talent.
- Companies Save Money by spending less on office rental, equipment and utilities.
- Employees Save Time & Money by not having to commute to and from the office.
- Many studies show that working Out Of Office makes Employees More Productive.
- Flexible work arrangements lead to Improved Quality of Life for Employees.
- The emergence of co-working spaces has increased the availability and variety of New Workspaces for Out Of Office workers.
For the last 200 years, the office with a permanent staff has been the default work environment of the knowledge worker. But it wasn’t in the past, and it’s not necessarily the best for the future. What would the workplace look like if offices weren’t an option?
Listen to the episode here:
Many people think telecommuting is a relatively recent phenomenon that has come about as a result of the development of the Internet. It’s true that the Internet has made working Out Of Office possible for millions of people but telecommuting was there at the birth of the IT industry thanks to the revolutionary ideas of Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley.
Way back in 1962 Dame Shirley formed a software company that employed women programmers working from home. Dame Shirley grew her company to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds. She has since given away much of her wealth to become one of Britain’s most generous philanthropists.