The option for workers to work anywhere is crucial to an organisation’s success and competitiveness. But working anywhere — or teleworking and telecommuting — is complex because organisations rely on managers to oversee the process, and unless managers accept flexible arrangements as a legitimate way of working they won’t achieve engagement or deliver results.
In my research for Anywhere Working and The New Era of Telecommuting, the trend for flexible work arrangements has been identified by leading global employers as a key driver for future workplaces. But the challenge for management is to understand future trends relating to work location — increasingly being disrupted by technologies — and how these trends affect the management skills and capabilities necessary to manage this workforce effectively.
Organisations have to ensure they have training in place and encourage managers to understand that working anywhere supports other human resources policies such as inclusion and diversity, and potentially increases productivity. Managers and workers also should have the skills and capabilities to determine when it is appropriate, including which technology will support communication and collaboration.
Most organisations have appropriate HR policies as they need to comply with legislation.
You can have the best policies to support anywhere working but, unless managers are on board and fully support flexible work, anywhere working won’t be effective.
One issue identified is that some managers see working from home as a privilege. It’s not a privilege, it’s just a different way of working. Many managers also believe in “presenteeism” — if you’re not in the office, you’re not working. But the evidence doesn’t support that thinking. Staff may work outside business hours, check emails on days off, work when sick and contribute significant amounts of unpaid time. This is particularly so for knowledge workers, where measuring productivity is less straightforward than in centre jobs, for instance, where calls are easily quantified.
An organisation’s success and competitiveness depend on its ability to embrace diversity and realise its benefits.
This shows in my research for an insurance company piloting a telework arrangement.
One worker was the mother of two small children who lived in the Blue Mountains and commuted to Sydney daily. She was up at 5am to take the kids to the neighbours with packed breakfasts and lunches, then back by 4pm to pick them up from another neighbour for daily activities. Her life was complicated and stressful — the perfect candidate for a work-from-home arrangement.
I interviewed her before she started teleworking and six months after. She was a different person — the stress had gone. She was organised, structured and visited the office when needed.
Her productivity for the insurance firm increased because she could work and take care of her family responsibilities.
For example, her daughter had a school playground accident and was concussed, and needed to be monitored for a couple of days. Instead of taking sick leave, the employee was able to work at home and monitor her daughter.
This shows what happens when an organisation actively assesses workplace diversity issues, develops flexible practices and ensures these are managed properly.
Properly managed, anywhere working has a positive effect on internal activities and relationships, and on the experiences of customers, key stakeholders and ultimately on an organisation’s success.
Yvette Blount is a senior lecturer at Macquarie University’s faculty of business and economics.