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Doubts Remain about Flexible Working


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By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a new survey by Microsoft Canada, many employers are still uncomfortable about the productivity of employees who work flexibly. The survey of over 1200 employees and over 600 bosses revealed that only a quarter of Canadian managers felt their employees were as productive at home as they are in the office.  Almost half (42%) of employers in the survey say they allow their employees to work remotely.

James Nicholson, Deployment Specialist for Windows with Microsoft Canada, said, “Organizations that will be successful in the future are those that remove the barriers between people, workplace and technology.”

He added, “When you empower your people by creating a workplace that facilitates flexibility with the technology and solutions that help them to be productive wherever they are, you get the most out of your people.”

Employers of Choice

In fact, 55 percent of workers felt they were more productive when working remotely. An even higher percentage of bosses (62 percent) said they were more productive out of the office. These numbers show that the way people work is shifting – and the majority of individuals see working in the office as an impediment to getting the job done.

According to the survey, top reasons respondents worked remotely include:

  • “Needing to finish work that couldn’t be finished at the office” (48%)
  • “Having fewer distractions” (44%)
  • “Being more productive than in the office” (35%)
  • “Having a better balance of work/home priorities” (35%)

While bosses may be uncomfortable with the productivity of their workforce when not in the office, that attitude will have to budge, noted several Microsoft Canada spokespeople, because times are changing. And bosses who want to retain choice talent will have to change with them.

Mike Kennedy, Vice President at Aon Hewitt and National Lead, Health Strategies and Solutions, said:

“As workers juggle longer hours and aim to maintain a work-life balance, employers who can offer flexible workspaces to their employees are leading the pack in becoming employers of choice. We are seeing more and more that employees are seeking out flexible work arrangements and the opportunity to work outside the office walls – anywhere and anytime, from the airport to the soccer field. And as the competition for top talent continues, particularly for the next generation entering the workforce and for the highly skilled experienced talent, employers who aren’t keeping up may be left behind.”

Taking Leadership in Enabling Remote Work

Microsoft Canada’s Vice President of Human Resources emphasized that keen leadership is necessary for ensuring that a remote work program is implemented properly, so that employees get the most out of the arrangement and productivity remains high.

She explained, “To create a flexible workforce begins with leadership teams building a culture of trust and a vision that focuses on individual results rather than how much time they spend at their desk. You have to empower your people with self-direction. That’s not just common sense, that’s business sense.”

Buccongello also suggested that because of today’s busy schedules and dual-career households, traditional work arrangements are likely to become a thing of the past – and not just for the youngest generation of workers, who expect mobility in life and work.

“Boundaries between work and life are blurring. You may dismiss this as a Generation-C issue but this speaks broadly to all generations. There are pros and cons to this new way of work, but it is not going away and technology can become the key to resetting those boundaries.”

The survey showed some of the “pet-peeves” of bosses when it comes to remote work.

  • “The inability to talk face-to-face”(49%)
  • “Lack of focus” (26%)
  • “Lack of accountability” (22%)
  • “The belief that employees are doing less work” (22%)

But these road blocks can be avoided or overcome. Accountability systems, proper use of technology, and frequent communication with colleagues and managers can help teams avoid common impediments to a successful remote work program.

Nicholson added, “…at the centre of their workstyles, people expect increased technological capabilities to keep up with them – everything from real time collaboration with colleagues to video conferencing and secure access to their files.”