The Onion turns its satirical eye to the differences between working in a regular office and working Out Of Office.
There’s an increasing trend towards Out of Office work, but not every organisation agrees. One ad agency, redpepper, is bucking the trend and insisting all its employees work in the office.
Dave McMullen and his business partner Tim McMullen argue that they can provide a more creative and innovative environment in the office than by letting team members work from home.
But they don’t provide drab, grey cubicles like many offices do. Instead, they provide:
- An on-site cafe for those who would otherwise work in a Starbucks
- Soundproof rooms for research and thinking
- Attractive team meeting rooms
They also believe that an in-office environment helps spark spontaneous ideas, build a stronger culture, and give greater productivity.
External workers (freelancers, contractors, consultants, gigsters) make up an increasing proportion of the workforce. Leading external workers presents both challenges and opportunities, and it’s a leadership skill that will be increasingly valuable in our future.
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As work teams become more fluid, managers and leaders not only need to understand how to lead full-time Out of Office workers, but other types of workers as well. One growing sector is the freelancer community (also known as the “gig economy”). It’s easy to treat freelancers as simply resources who do one-off jobs. But that ignores the skills, talents, and unique experiences of these freelancers.
The Harvard Business Review article “Performance Management in the Gig Economy” gives leaders a number of ideas for getting more out of these freelancers:
- Share context
- Measure more than cost, schedule, and quality
- Encourage agile talent to communicate concerns before problems bloom
- Demonstrate two-way feedback
- Make sure the right managers are supervising your agile talent
- Acknowledge excellence and share the news
The numbers of Out Of Office workers is steadily increasing worldwide, so it’s more important than ever that business leaders develop processes for hiring and managing Out Of Office workers. Sara Sutton Fell describes some of the techniques used by companies with a significant Out Of Office workforce:
- Seek characteristics for Out Of Office work: These include self-starters, who can work independently, value continuous learning, and are receptive to feedback. Strong communication skills are particularly valuable.
- Use a hiring process that supports working Out Of Office: Focus on the candidates’ skills and approach to work. Assess how well candidates follow instructions, ask questions and work remotely. Look for previous experience working Out Of Office.
- Manage by goals and outcomes: Set clear targets and goals. Have regular, weekly updates that check progress against milestones and plan forward. Provide tools for planning and tracking progress and effort on projects.
As much as we like and endorse Out of Office work, we also recognise it has some disadvantages. One that isn’t commonly discussed is that Out of Office workers are often seen as second-class citizens, and possibly overlooked for interesting opportunities and promotion.
A report by Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women backs this up, suggesting this is particularly disadvantageous for men in the workplace, who are seen as “not serious”, and hence not treated equally with colleagues. The same applies to some women as well, but Out of Office work can also be seen as positive for them, because (rightly or wrongly) it’s seen as an indication of greater commitment, especially when juggling family and home life.
One of the benefits of Out of Office work is that it allows you to build your teams from anywhere in the world. But leading a global team isn’t as easy as just connecting people to your office over the Internet.
Melissa Lamson describes three key skills for a global manager:
- The ability to transmit values and create culture within a team
- The ability to be nimble enough to adapt your style to others
- The ability to give recognition and deliver effective feedback
In an increasingly connected world, it’s important for leaders to understand the special dynamics of global teams, so they can reduce the perceived distance, manage time differences, and embrace diversity across cultures.
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It’s good to see a few schools are preparing their students for Out Of Office work by introducing work from home days. A handful of high schools in the US schedule “virtual days” when students login to school from home. In spite of a few teething problems and initial resistance, the work from home days are preparing students for life after high school when study and work will be done remotely.
This article in EdWeek describes the experience and suggests tips for educators interested in running work from home days:
- Use a common learning-management system
- Students tend to respond best to “synchronous” lessons that allow for real-time communication and interaction
- Professional development and plenty of advanced preparation time is a must for teaching staff
- Ensure students have Internet access
- Help parents understand what you’re doing and why
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.