The ‘Golden Ticket’ to Improving Productivity

Written by KB Published in
Thought Leader Blog Post

Workplace Flexibility: The ‘Golden Ticket’ to Improving Productivity and Engagement

Researchers Brian Carney and Isaac Getz claim that the single most important corporate move in the last two decades that is quietly transforming a number of businesses is complete freedom for employees. How does this translate in the workplace? Both globally and locally, workplace flexibility is consistently sighted as one of the top three drivers of employee engagement.

 
It seems that the Australian Federal government is also committed to enhancing this initiative with a clear goal stating “that by 2020 Australia will at least double its level of teleworking, so that one in eight Australian employees (12 percent) will report having a regular telework arrangement with their employers’. (NB The term ‘telework’ is often more commonly referred to as ‘anywhere working’ or workplace flexibility.)
 
Earlier this year I attended “The Digital Productivity in the Workplace of the Future” Conference, hosted by the Centre for Workforce Futures - part of Macquarie University. What was clear from the many topics covered throughout the day was that for most organizations the technology platforms exist to facilitate the opportunity to telework. At a senior level, organizations understand that workplace flexibility or teleworking needs to be part of the organizational culture but practically there are still major challenges and roadblocks at the line-manager level.
 
Mindset and leadership challenges were central to this described as:
 • Fear from a line-manager that the individuals involved in ‘telework’ will not work the full hours paid and therefore the organization will be missing out on some perceived value; inherent in this is a lack of trust that is a bigger issue that workplace flexibility.
 • Fear from the line-manager that the work won’t get done and then they will have to pick up the slack.
 • Perception from colleagues that working from home or teleworking is not really working (that they are looking after the kids, having coffee with friends or watching TV).
 
My own observations working in organizations over the past few years - as both a consultant and trainer on employee engagement and performance - shows that these are very real fears, with many employees challenging their company’s ability to ‘walk’ their flexible workplace practice ‘talk’.
 
Why is this an issue for organizations in the future?
 
As one of the presenters throughout the course of the conference day noted: the incremental financial benefit required to offset the value of not having access to the flexibility she currently does (as a working mum with a 60 minute commute to the office each way), would need to be significant to warrant a change in employer. This ticks numerous HR buzzwords like retention, engagement, work-life balance, employer-of-choice to name just a few.
 
Talking talent war? Research shows 75% of non-working Australians would happily work, and 60% of mature workers would delay retirement by 6.6 years if a flexible work opportunity was available to them.
 
The benefits don’t end there.
 
In March this year Behavioral Neuroscientist Dr Lucia Kelleher and I completed a research project on “Distractions and Workplace Productivity*” (which was presented at the conference as part of the proposed solution). Our hypothesis for this project was that one of the most commonly sited comments by employees in the workplace today is that they are busy and under resourced. Whilst we recognize that this is a very real challenge for many organizations, we also believe that the level of information overload and distractions in the working environment today makes it incredibly challenging for employees to focus and get things done when working.
 
The key insights included:
 • 55 % of respondents were frequently distracted throughout the workday of which only 33% were able to disregard distractions and get on with the job.
 • 44% of people could get their job done in 10% less than their paid hours if they were able to disregard distractions and get on with the job.
 •  47% of respondents are completely unproductive five or more hours a week due to stress, overload and overwhelm.
 
Whilst these results are concerning, what was interesting was the emergence of a group we coined ‘Early Adapters’. This group represented approximately 20% of our sample and displayed among other things a well-developed ability to ‘self-regulate’, meaning distractions did not appear to be a significant challenge to productivity. What was evident to their success was workplace flexibility not only in terms of when work was completed but also where. 
 
Workplace flexibility has gained global media exposure following Yahoo CEO’s, Marissa Mayer controversial decision to end all work-from-home agreements beginning in June. Her core reason centered on the need to collaborate as ‘one Yahoo’. However, in Australia, organizations such as Microsoft , Medibank and various public sector agencies are embracing the opportunities that teleworking can provide.
 
There is no one-size-fits-all flexibility formula for either individual employees or organizations. Not all roles easily lend themselves toward being teleworked however the ability to review roles at a task level will open up more roles and opportunities for employees. Likewise, not all employees want the opportunity that flexibility provides - some preferring the office and colleague environment.
 
*To download a copy of the 2013 Productivity in the Workplace Report, or listen to the Webinar based on key findings click here.
 
For more information on the Australian Governments teleworking initiatives visit www.telework.gov.au.
 
For more information on Macquarie University’s Centre for Workforce Future visit http://www.businessandeconomics.mq.edu.au/research/centre_for_workforce_futures .
The ability to offer a broad range of options and trial arrangements for a period will help ease some of the challenges cited in transitioning workplace flexibility ‘talk’ to an organization’s ‘walk’.


Thought Leader, Kate Boorer is an employee engagement and performance expert. 

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