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Workplace Flexibility Improves Team Performance

Jan. 23, 2014 — When a handful of major companies abandoned their flexible work initiatives last year and called employees back into the office, they cited their need to improve team performance — particularly communication and collaboration. The "National Workplace Flexibility Study" from Boston College Center for Work & Family, Career/Life Alliance Services Inc., and Life Meets Work shows team functioning and performance can actually improve when teams work flexibly.

Researchers introduced a series of manager activities including focus groups, training, a planning tool, and follow-up support activities over a three-month period. Both manager and employee attitudes were measured before and after the interventions.

A majority of the managers who completed the planning tool, 55%, reported improvement in team communication, and 53% reported team interaction improved. Over 41% saw an increase in their team's understanding of performance goals, 24% said customer service improved, and 20% said productivity improved.

Other shifts in manager attitudes included the following:

  • Concerns that flexible work arrangements would be used inappropriately decreased by 23%.
  • Concerns that policies were ambiguous or unclear decreased by 19%.
  • Concerns over how to evaluate flexibility requests, decreased by 21%.
  • Concerns over how to reach employees if there is a crisis, decreased by 20%.

“Regardless of how well-designed a company’s approach to workplace flexibility is, if managers aren’t on board and don’t have the skills to manage effectively, it will flounder. It’s as simple as that,” said Delta Emerson, chief of staff at Ryan LLC. “This study is proof positive that it is possible to properly equip managers, even those who might be resistant, to succeed in leading a flexible team.”

Of note, employees reported increased access to flexibility after the research period even though they did not participate directly in the study interventions. Employees were also more likely to believe they could use flexible work without hurting their career, after manager training.

“We know that managers have a lot of concerns about workplace flexibility. They worry about availability, fairness, workload, and performance issues,” said Kathy Kacher of Career/Life Alliance Services. “This study shows that, with the right tools, those fears can be overcome. In almost every case, managers reported no negative impact on the business after they built a plan with their employees for how they’d work together in a flexible environment.”

 

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