Work flexibility: how much is too much?

A recent study has found that teleworking could improve employee retention and performance, but does that mean it's right for your company?

As the number of people wanting to work from home increases, there is growing concern among employers that this could lead to decreased productivity. A new study, however, suggests that this is not the case.

Garry Brack, chief executive of the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the general consensus among employers is that working from home is likely to be unfeasible.

“Employers are always worried about whether or not it’s going to be practical,” Brack told the Herald. “In the end there are a lot of employers that say, ‘I don’t want to go down that path'.”

Brack emphasised that one reason many employers reject the idea of working from home is due to concerns about a fall in productivity.
In spite of this, the number of Australians working at home more than doubled between 2001 and 2008, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, increasing from almost 1 million to 2.4 million people.

A recent study on teleworkers, jointly undertaken by the University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband Enabled Society and AUT University’s NZ Work Research Institute, contradicts the concerns of some Australian employers regarding the issue.

Those who work both from home and the office are 12% more productive than those who do not telework, according to the survey.

The Trans-Tasman study found that not only were these workers – whose practice has been dubbed ‘hybrid teleworking’ – more productive, they are also more satisfied with their job, implying that allowing a degree of teleworking could be the key to increasing employee retention.

The study surveyed almost 100 managers and more than 1800 employees from 50 organisations across Australia and New Zealand, finding that teleworkers considered their work flexibility to allow them to be more productive and to perform better.

The managers surveyed found that teleworkers deliver better work outcomes and are absent less often.

Tim Fawcett, general manager of corporate and government affairs at Cisco, confirmed that these statistics are accurate.

“Employees at Cisco who are allowed to work from outside of the office regularly tell us from feedback surveys that they’re more engaged and 18% more likely to be high performers,” Fawcett told HC.

“Cisco has a widespread view that where employees work is not important, it’s what they produce and do. Our employees tell us they’re more productive because of it, partially through avoiding commuting. They’re also more likely to be highly engaged because of the flexibility. Something like 89% of our staff say they work flexibly outside of the office at least one day a week.”

The study concludes that the key enablers of successful telework are trust, good management and the right technology support – allowing hybrid teleworking can be a smart move for employers, if preparation and maintenance are undertaken correctly.

The benefits of flexible work arrangements are not only being noticed by organisations in Australia and New Zealand.

“The US government has massively increased its flexible work offers under Barack Obama,” Fawcett said. “This trend is growing in momentum. Organisations without flexibility schemes will soon be falling behind.”

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