Do Flexible Work Arrangements Really Impact Productivity?

23485697294_cce6de165e_bIn the recent TLNT blog post, “Six Myths Of Employee Engagement,” employee recruitment expert Magi Graziano debunks a half-dozen employee engagement myths. Or does she?

With all due respect to Ms. Graziano and the editors at TLNT, myth number one—A flexible work environment fosters productivity—seems fairly disconnected from the “debunking” that follows it. Judge for yourself:

A flexible work environment fosters productivity
While remote work opportunities reduce the carbon footprint and avert hours wasted in traffic, more often than not companies do a poor job of looping remote workers into the day-to-day activities of the business. Unfortunately, a very typically adverse impact of remote work for the employee is “out of sight, out of mind.” Research shows that remote workers and workers with flex-time schedules receive less coaching and mentoring and miss out on the institutional knowledge-sharing and socialization that happens in the typical course of a shared workspace.

Frankly, I don’t see a solid connection between these points and employee productivity. After all, “doing a poor job of looping remote workers into the day-to-day activities of the business” doesn’t automatically imply poor productivity. Nor do receiving less coaching and mentoring or missing out on workplace socialization. I’ve known plenty of people who worked under these very conditions and were consistently rated as exemplary performers.

Don’t get me wrong, these issues certainly can impact productivity levels … but the post doesn’t show any real correlation. Still, all of this did get me wondering: how do flexible work arrangements affect employee productivity?

Victor Lipman addresses the question from the employee perspective in his recent Forbes article, “Are Remote Workers Happier And More Productive?,” in which he shares the findings of a new TINYpulse survey about remote workers. The survey shows that remote workers overwhelmingly believe they’re more productive:

“According to the survey, 91% of remote workers believe they ‘get more work done when working remotely,’ compared to only 9% who feel they don’t. While it’s worth noting this is an employee self-assessment (as opposed to managers’ assessments), the large margin here does seem significant,” writes Lipman.

A 2014 article published in the Harvard Business Review, “To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home,” offers a more objective point of view about flexible work arrangements and productivity, It describes a study of call center staffers working for the travel website Ctrip. Half the staff was allowed to work from home while the other half worked in the company’s office. Stanford University Professor of Economics, Nicholas Bloom, helped conduct the study and afterwards reported the following:

“The results we saw at Ctrip blew me away. Ctrip was thinking that it could save money on space and furniture if people worked from home and that the savings would outweigh the productivity hit it would take when employees left the discipline of the office environment. Instead, we found that people working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.”

The 2015 article, “What makes remote workers more productive?” published by Insight UK, also references the Ctrip study but offers these insights as well:

  • A Gallup survey found that remote workers logged four more hours per week work than their in-office counterparts, and they were more engaged (32% engaged) than those who work in the office (28%).
  • British Telecommunications said its home workers are 20% more productive than their office-based colleagues. It also found that absenteeism among home workers was 63% lower than their office-based counterparts.

In the interest of fairness, I should mention that the Insight UK piece ended with this observation: “On the flip side, 80% of home workers are distracted by spouses, children and pets while 20% exercise less and 38% snack more.”

I suppose no work environment is perfect.


Photo credit: Self Portrait via photopin (license)

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