Flexibility transforms modern business

Employee working at home
FlexJobs’ 2016 survey reveals only 7 percent of US workers say ‘they’re most productive in the office’ — 51 percent prefer working from home and 8 percent ‘would choose a coffee shop, coworking space, library, or other place besides the office’. Another 8 percent ‘would choose the office, but only outside regular hours’.

Many businesses remain unconvinced, however, that flexible- and home-working represent a strategic opportunity to realign with 21st century thinking: motivating, effective, adaptable, inspiring efficiency. While progressive thinkers recognise the above survey reveals 93 percent of workers are ineffective in the office, dogmatic leadership disregards the fact, losing valuable productivity.

People HR commissioned a separate 2019 survey, which explored UK employee wellbeing. While COVID-19, public health and economic decline dominate 2020, in 2019 79 percent of employees were ‘too afraid’ to stay away from work while sick. People behaved in this way because they feared judgement or management pressure. Employers that neglect employee welfare — the social impact of putting direct supervision ahead of global health — expose a manipulative recklessness.

Both surveys highlight why enforcing rigid, office-based workday regimes is harmful to staff. Where possible alternatives exist, leadership should favour and encourage them. All other approaches increase fragility when commercial business needs opportunity, durability, endurance.

The Society for Human Resource Management reports that some companies want to ‘improve communication, collaboration and teamwork by bringing employees back into the office’. This contrasts with $689 billion per year potential employer savings from enabling those who could (and prefer to) work from home. Liz Ryan, writing for Forbes in 2017, suggests managerial fear is the real reason employers dislike home-working: fear ‘their job managing the team might become less important’, fear they cannot watch over their human resources, fear employees waste time ‘instead of staring at their computer doing “real work”‘.

Fear of change, and its fixed thinking, poses a threat to business success, as discussed by Charles A. O’Reilly III, Professor of Management at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and Michael L. Tushman, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, in Lead and Disrupt: How to Solve the Innovator’s Dilemma. Rigid leadership has caused certain well-known commercial successes to collapse because they were ‘unable or unwilling to sense new opportunities and to reconfigure the firm’s assets in ways that permitted the company to continue to survive and prosper’. It is salient post-COVID-19 warning.

21st century commerce confronts a 24/7 global marketplace in which customers value instant communication at all times, day or night. Organisations hoping to compete must respond; transforming the way workforces operate suits not only customers, but also employees. By enabling remote-working in return for employee flexibility, business breaks the 9-to-5 routine, extending its customer-service availability.

Transformations must happen at enterprise-level when the commercial chain’s suppliers or downstream customers remain tied to a 9-to-5 habit. To reinvent business that aligns with the 21st century means abandoning legacy practices and ending unhelpful commercial relationships. Working with new forward-thinking partner-organisations that embrace transformation increases customer-value, steering commerce through 2020’s challenges.

[This article was first posted on LinkedIn, January 2019, and has been updated to reflect COVID-19’s commercial challenges.]

Image by imperioame from Pixabay