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An organization’s ability to be flexible when it comes to working remotely could lead to more innovation, communication, creativity, productivity and engagement, according to research from the Flex+Strategy Group (FSG).
In fact, in its national probability telephone survey of 595 full-time employed adults, FSG discovered that organizations that pulled back from remote work might have gotten it wrong.
“Organizations that blame flexibility for their performance challenges risk missing out on the very business gains they’re trying to achieve,” said Cali Williams Yost, CEO of Flex+Strategy Group. “The flexibility is not the problem. It’s that organizations don’t know how to use the flexibility and remote work strategically to transform their business.”
IBM raised some eyebrows when it discontinued its remote work program last year. However, 34% of U.S. full-time employees now do most of their work from a remote location. That's up slightly from 31% in 2013. Regardless of where employees are located, almost all (98%) report some form of work flexibility.
Of those who do work flexibly, 45% said they feel that flexibility increases their ability to “communicate, create and innovate with colleagues.” Only 5% reported a decrease, and 49% said it remains the same. Further, 60% who have flexible work options said they feel they’re “more productive and engaged.” Only 4% said they are less so, and 34% said feeling their level of productivity and engagement is consistent.
Remote workers also noted the same performance benefits. Among remote workers, 41% reported feeling their flexibility increases communication, creativity and innovation, with only 4% reporting a decline. A majority also said they feel more productive and engaged (58%), with only 2% saying they are less so.
While almost all employees reported having some degree of work flexibility, the majority (57%) receive no training or guidance on how to manage it. Fewer reported receiving such instruction than previously — only 42% in 2017 compared to 47% in 2015. That's a red flag for Yost who noted the investment in training and resources to support flexibility has significant and positive business impacts.
“You can't simply give employees a laptop and say ‘just get your job done’ without meaningful training on how to strategically use flexibility, technology and workspace options to work smarter,” Yost said.
There was a notable difference between those employees who received training and felt their flexibility makes them more productive and engaged (70%) versus those without training who also noted an increase (53%). Similarly, there was a significant difference between those flexible workers who did receive training and report their ability to communicate, create and innovate increases (53%) compared to only 39% among those who didn't receive guidance.
“This national data validates the productivity and collaboration increases we’ve seen firsthand following training and pilot programs with clients, including Con Edison and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center,” Yost explained. “Organizations that invest in building a high performance flexible work culture — with the right training, tools and techniques to best facilitate how, when and where employees work — see positive and measurable results.”
76% of all respondents felt advancements in workplace technology have made it easier to team up with and communicate with colleagues, and 58% said it has made it easier to work flexibly. Employees that received flexibility training were likelier to note those positive views. However, despite widespread availability of collaborative technologies that improve efficiency, most employees (65%) go old-school using email, spread sheets and Word documents as their “frequently” used tools to update supervisors and colleagues about work progress and performance. Only 17% noted frequent use of video/web conferencing and just 8% frequently used cloud-based project management software.