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“Anywhere working” needs the support of managers otherwise flexible work arrangements won’t succeed

Posted on Mar 15, 2017

The option for workers to work anywhere is crucial to most organisations’ success and competitiveness today. But working anywhere (also called telework or telecommuting) is complex because organisations rely on managers to oversee the process, and unless these managers accept flexible arrangements as a legitimate way of working, organisations won’t achieve employee engagement or be able to deliver the results they need in the market place.

As is evident in my “Anywhere working and the new era of telecommuting” research findings, the trend for flexible work arrangements has been identified by leading global employers as a key driver for workplaces of the future.

However, the challenge for management is to understand future trends relating to the location of work (which is increasingly being disrupted by ICT) and how these trends impact on the management skills and capabilities necessary to be able to manage this workforce effectively.

Organisations have to make sure they have training in place and encourage their managers to understand that working anywhere supports other HR policies such as inclusion and diversity as well as potentially increasing productivity. Managers and workers should also have the skills and capabilities to determine when anywhere working is an appropriate strategy including which technology will support the communication and collaboration requirements for anywhere working.

Most organisations have wonderful HR policies in place because they need to comply with legislation such as the Fair Work Act. You can have the best policies to support anywhere working, but unless the manager is on board and fully supports flexible work (rather than see this mode of working as a privilege) and is able to engage with their workers, telecommuting won’t be effective.

Some managers see working from home as a privilege.  It’s not a privilege; it’s just a different way of working. There are also many managers that believe in presenteeism – that if you’re not in the office, you’re not working – the evidence doesn’t support that thinking. Employees may work outside business hours, check for emails on their days off, work when sick and contribute significant amounts of unpaid time.  This is particularly the case for knowledge workers where measuring productivity is less straightforward than for work such as call centre jobs where the number of calls is easily quantified.”

An organisation’s success and competitiveness depends on its ability to embrace diversity and realise its benefits. This is evident in my research for an insurance company piloting a telework arrangement.

One worker in the pilot program was the mother of two small children who lived in the Blue Mountains and commuted to Sydney every day.  Her routine was up at 5am to take the kids to the neighbours with their packed breakfast and lunches, then back by 4pm to pick them up from another neighbour for their daily activities. Her life was complicated and stressful. The perfect candidate for a work-from-home arrangement.  I interviewed her before the telework arrangement started and six months after.  She looked like a different person – the stress had gone. She was organised, structured, and visited the office when needed. As a result, her productivity for the insurance firm went up.

This example shows what happens when an organisation actively assesses its handling of workplace diversity issues, develops flexible work practices and ensures these are managed properly.

If properly managed, anywhere working impacts positively not only internal activities and relationships, but also on the experiences of customers, other key stakeholders and ultimately an organisation’s success.

Dr Yvette Blount is a senior lecturer at Macquarie University Business & Economics faculty. Dr Blount will present her teleworking research findings “Anywhere Working and the New Era of Telecommuting”, January 2017 this week at CEDA’s Women in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion series which examines diversity drivers, and unlocking workplace productivity.