Flexible Working: Productive or Destructive?

  • Published on:
    May 29, 2019
  • Reading time by:
    7 minutes
Flexible Working: Productive or Destructive? womenontopp women on Topp womenontopp.com

It’s a much-debated topic and a growing trend, but most companies still don’t seem to take a deliberate approach to flexible working. Instead, they just offer a vague middle ground of “flexible working” on a case by case basis.

There are strong arguments for encouraging remote working and, conversely, arguments for bringing everyone together under the one roof. As recent examples highlight, there is no “one size fits all” answer. The key is to tailor your company’s approach to your objectives, operating rhythm, desired culture and workforce composition. (PS: Let us know your thoughts in the comments on Women On Topp!)

Back to the office

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer famously abolished working from home in 2013, saying that “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together”.

It’s a powerful argument. It also contains an inherent assumption that working from home increases productivity, which may not always be true. But Mayer had to do something to shake up Yahoo!’s culture and she put collaboration ahead of flexibility, which is what she felt the company needed at that point in time.

In 2014 Reddit decided to consolidate its workforce in one location, San Francisco, and abolished remote working. Reddit’s reasons were similar to Yahoo!’s.

More flexible companies

Envato, a marketplace for creative assets, takes a very different approach, explicitly promoting remote and flexible working on its careers site. Remote working, travel, flexible hours, paid parental leave and secondments are just some of the many employee benefits Envato highlights.

Envato’s culture is different to Yahoo!’s and, importantly, its head office is not in Silicon Valley but rather in Melbourne, Australia. Envato chooses to promote flexibility and optionality as important features of its culture.

Automattic, the company that developed WordPress, is another company that promotes flexible working, citing talent as its primary reason. Automattic CEO, Matt Mullenweg, said that remote working “… has been amazing for the company in that we can attract and retain the best talent without them having to be in New York or San Francisco or one of the traditional tech centers.”

Automattic uses chat, alerts and an internal blog to communicate effectively and ensures staff are adequately supported with great tools. WordPress is the most dominant content management system in the world so Automattic doesn’t appear to be suffering from a lack of productivity as a result of its remote workforce.

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The conclusion is therefore that it’s different strokes for different folks. It depends on your company’s situation and, most importantly, how you execute your desired approach.

Here are some of the questions you should ask before deciding which way to go:

1.  What kind of culture do you want to develop?

2.  How would you like staff to communicate and collaborate?

3.  How much are you prepared to invest in home office stipends, tools and technology for staff?

4.  Where is the talent you need likely to be based?

5.  What do you need to do to get the best out of your staff and keep your people engaged?

6.  What is the downside of the approach you select and how can you mitigate that?

We practice what we preach

Under the right circumstances, remote working can hugely advantageous. The key is to put the right processes in place and maintain a structure, as Automattic has done. Otherwise it can get messy and very quickly. If executed well, the benefits can be tremendous.

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