The telecommuting balancing act

Shift Happens

The telecommuting balancing act

Telecommuter image by Steve Heap via Shutterstock.

My great-grandmother once told me, "Anything in moderation is just fine." I have taken this advice to heart and found that moderation tends to be the most sustainable and rewarding path. Excess leads to unhappiness.

Much of our work at BrownFlynn can be done remotely, but we have long believed that this is not the best practice for the firm or for our clients. In order to deliver the best service, maintain efficient operations and create an environment of trust and teamwork, we continue to work in the office the majority of the time. Sustaining this environment requires continuous innovation. Recently we have been testing our flex time and remote working practices to better align a policy that reflects the office environment we wish to create.

We recognize the importance of balancing the need to be at home with the need to be in the office to create generative relationships with our colleagues and clients. Recent headlines about companies such as Yahoo and Best Buy reversing their flex time policies caused us to dive a little deeper into this question. What is the best practice when it comes to flex time policies? Is there a best practice?

Flexible working environments, like other human resource guidelines, help to shape the culture of an organization. As an organization shifts, so do the habits of the employees. A recent article in the Atlantic Wire shed a little more light on the Yahoo story. At Yahoo it seemed that they might have pushed beyond what was the best fit for the organization, and the recent reversal is a correction to address a dysfunctional working environment.

In this case, I can't help but go back to my grandmother's advice. Yahoo requires collaboration, strong teams and individuals dedicated to a common goal. Together these elements create generative relationships. These relationships require conversation both planned and unplanned, face time and human presence. Further, these generative relationships are much more difficult to create remotely. I do not believe that rolling back these polices is the solution. However, I do believe that making sure the policies are matched with the appropriate positions and that there is adequate face time to support collaboration is essential for success.

Despite these recent events, the trend continues toward creating more flexible work environments. More Americans are working from home than ever before. The 2010 census found that 13.4 million people or 9.4 percent of the workforce worked from home at least one day per week in 2010, up from 9.2 million people in 2007. This is both a necessary and healthy trend for businesses and employees alike. By creating environments where employees have the option to have regular or planned work days at home, they are better able to schedule non-work activities, reduce their carbon footprint and save time and money from the commute to work. As long as these activities do not negatively affect needed collaboration, face time or essential job functions, it can relieve stress from the working environment and provide for a more productive work day.

A good example of a company that provides for a healthy work-life balance is Erie Insurance. In June 2012, Erie Insurance was one of 66 employers to receive the 2012 Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles award by National Business Group on Health, for its commitment to promoting a healthy workplace and encouraging its employees and their families to maintain healthy lifestyles.

Erie offers employees a wellness program that includes personal health coaches, onsite fitness classes and disease-management counseling. The company also offers financial incentives for employees who demonstrate healthy behaviors and meet certain fitness goals. Companies that received this award were honored in two categories: Platinum and Gold. Erie was honored in the Gold category for "creating cultural and environmental changes that support employees who are committed to long-term behavior changes." This includes a flex time policy that allows employees to work from home, maintain a compressed work week or telecommute.

It is no secret that Americans like the flexibility of working from home. The stress of working life and the fact that most households have two family members working means it is much more difficult to coordinate the things that need to get done outside of work. Happy people are happy employees and happy employees are more likely to be productive employees.

Noelle C. Nelson investigates this theory in the book "Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy." The book cites a study from the Jackson Organization, which states companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity and assets more than triple that experienced by firms that don't. When looking at Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For," stock prices rose an average of 14 percent per year from 1998-2005, compared to 6 percent for the overall market. This all leads to the understanding that happy employees tend to be more engaged employees because they feel valued and appreciated. Creating reasonable flex time policies demonstrates that your company understands that employees have stress outside of work and that working remotely can relieve some of this stress.

By seeking a healthy balance of working in the office and remotely, it is possible to relieve the stress of managing work outside of work while more deeply engaging employees to improve the productivity of any organization. That particular balance depends on the employees' activities and the goals and culture of the organization. But overall, it appears that establishing flex time policies can create positive organizational change within a company, strengthen company culture and provide for happier, healthier, more productive employees.

Telecommuter image by Steve Heap via Shutterstock.