The beauty and business benefits of flexible working - Business Works
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The beauty and business benefits of flexible working

Adi Gaskell, management commentator Imagine, if you will, where I might be writing this blog from. Do you think it's from the office? Maybe I'm writing it from my home. Perhaps I'm writing it whilst travelling somewhere on the train. The beautiful thing with modern social communication tools is that the 'where' is increasingly irrelevant.

Yet if you look at the number of people that actually work flexibly, it's sadly rather small. In the US just 10% of people sometimes work from a place that isn't the office. The concept is far from a new one. Last year I interviewed the authors of Future Work about flexible working and they believe that, within a decade, there will be a revolution in the way we work. Alas that revolution is not there yet.

A new study [PDF] conducted by Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts and Zhichun Jenny Ying might provide further valuable evidence that allowing employees to utilise social business tools and work where they want is a great thing for them and their employer.

They wanted to test how productive flexible workers were in comparison to their office bound colleagues. They recruited 255 volunteers from a pool of call centre staff. Half of them were assigned to work from home, with all of the technology needed to do that provided for them, whilst the other half continued to work from the office as usual.

They then ran the experiment for a nine month period to ascertain whether home or office based working was best. The results are fascinating. The home workers achieved a number of significant wins.

  1. They were available to field calls for more minutes each day because they took fewer breaks
  2. They took fewer sick days over the 9 month period
  3. They fielded more calls per hour because their quiet home environment allowed them to solve customer queries more efficiently
  4. They reported higher job satisfaction
  5. They were less likely to quit their job

All of which sounds great, but does that translate into cold, hard cash? You betcha! The researchers totted up the results from each participant and found that for each home worker, the following financial benefits were seen:

  • Higher performance was worth $375
  • Savings in office rental space was worth $1250
  • Reductions in staff turnover and training of new staff was worth $400

So, all told, there were savings or benefits of over $2000 over the 9 month period. To put that into context, the average salary of each employee over the same period was $3000. Pretty impressive isn't it?

What's more, the researchers believed that over time, these savings would increase. After the experiment was completed, the employer allowed anyone that didn't enjoy working from home to come back into the office, whilst any office-bound employee that wanted to work from home was allowed to do so. So a kind of natural selection took place. The researchers found that the people that gave up on working from home were actually amongst the least productive, so once the natural filtering process had taken place the results could look even better.

In Future Work the authors use a case study from IBM where they believe working remotely can save the average employee 16.5 hours of wasted time per week. With studies like this, and the one covered above from Stanford, it seems something of a no brainer. The social business technology certainly exists to support the revolution in how we work. All we need is for attitudes to catch up with us in the 21st century.

Are you ready?

Adi Gaskell is a management writer and social business expert.

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