The Flexible Workplace Isn’t For Everyone

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Yahoo is catching a lot of flack for limiting their flexible workplace policies. It’s been a hot topic in the last few days if you even glance at any Inc/Fast Company/social business news site of any kind. While Yahoo is currently on the corporate culture chopping block, I think there’s a bigger question at stake. Should all workplaces have flexible work-from-home policies.

I argue no. Here’s why.

Company Culture Can’t Support It

It boils down to your company culture. Every company has a different way of doing things. They have different products and services and processes that go into making said products. The way one ad agency communicates with each other may look very different from the way another agency does things. It comes down to how you measure success. If your company has a punch-the-clock system of working and measure effort on number of hours worked, increased work-from-home options may not work well for you. Some organizations rely on the accountability of having your peers working hard around you to gauge levels of productivity.

If you have a company that doesn’t rely on much in the way of cloud-based tools to operate, having remote workers is going to be that much harder. Thinking beyond emails, if conference call-in numbers, cloud file storage or other online collaboration tools aren’t in your normal business operations, then remote working is going to make business a little harder.

Face-to-face time is important

We could talk about WebEx or Google Hangouts all we want. In a creative field, having face time is important. Most of our communication is non-verbal. It’s a fact. There are levels of communication and collaboration that get lost in emails and conference calls. Those random chance encounters in the hall of your office sometimes spawn the most fun ideas. Our “socialization” in general is getting lost with us making eye contact with the push notifications of our phones and not with other people. I could see some companies going to great lengths to preserve that human contact, despite how misguided it may come across at times.

Why I Like Workplace Flexibility

A lot of times, when I “work from home” I’m not working from home. I’m working in a coffee shop, a pub or a park bench that has a WiFi hotspot nearby. For me, being in the same desk every single day looking at the same wall makes my brain feel flat. Sometimes that change of scenery and/or background noise is just enough to give my brain a little jolt and freshen it back up again.

Especially in PR and marketing, an agency couldn’t afford to be a “punch the clock” company. Marketing is real-time, not on our time. Sometimes you have to work in weird hours. Requiring attendance from 9-6 every day and then working nights and weekends for other projects or events cuts into the work/life balance more than having work spread out across the kitchen table at night. We are fortunate to live in a world where we do have telecommuting options, cell phones and the potential ability to be reachable at any time of day, from anywhere.

Remote working in the past has afforded many opportunities for me that I would not have had otherwise. I’ve been able to see family more by driving up to Kentucky a day early, working from my parents or an in-law’s house for the day so I could have breakfast and dinner with people I may see a couple times a year. It’s also validated trust from my employer. Having those options showed they had faith in me to be responsible enough to get my work done and stay accountable to the team, whether or not someone was looking over my shoulder at the office. You know, like an adult.

Should Your Company Allow Remote Working?

It really depends on your company. That type of policy shouldn’t be based soley on the merits of workshifting being a new office trend. You don’t want to be Google or Yahoo or (insert company here). You want your organization to be the best at being itself. Workshifting should help encourage productivity and happiness and improve the overall health of your company. It shouldn’t be a hindrance or hurt your bottom line. I believe more often than not, a flexible work environment is a great policy. You can’t always chain employees to a desk and expect loyalty.

Ironically, I’ve found that the companies that have the most flexible work style policies have the most fun offices. Sure, there’s the option to work remotely but because of the people and environment of your actual office, it was beneficial to come to work. You want to be in the same room as your peers. You want to brainstorm with them, overhear sidebar conversations about a project or be available for those random serendipitous moments. It’s then that working from home turns into something you use only when you really need to, not to take advantage of a system.

Remote working isn’t something you can flip a switch on. It takes time to adjust to expectations and having a system to communicate when everyone isn’t in the same room all the time. Sometimes piloting a system allowing a one or two day a week policy is a good way to test and see if your group is ready to adapt.

Is workshifting right for your company? Is there ever a situation when you should have required hours of attendance?


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  • Josh Milenthal

    I think there needs to be a term for the refreshing “jolt” your brain gets when changing scenery, or at least changing the normal daily pattern that, as you said, “makes your brain feel flat.” I agree with this, but workshifting doesn’t have to be the only solution.

    Anything that freshens up the entire idea of “work” to an individual is the important part. If a company willingly provides that “mindspark” of sorts, whatever it may be (within reason), it will make employees happy. That may come from workshifting, or a weekly brainstorm session on something not project related that’s just plain fun, or even an unexpected “get the hell outta here and enjoy the weather” email from the higher-ups.

    It’s the little things that kick your brain up a notch.

    • Drew Hawkins

      I like that idea of finding ways to bring the benefits of remote work into the office. We need to work on a phrase for that spark. It’ll be the title of our next book.

  • Kaitlyn Dennihy

    Awesome, awesome thoughts Drew. Every company and every person is different and in selecting a company to work for, it is so much bigger than the pay, the clients, etc. I too love to have the flexibility to take a work from home day, and benefit greatly from doing so every once in a while, but I know that for me personally, I am much more

    • Drew Hawkins

      I think you nailed it – flexibility is a privilege. Last night I saw a BI article from ex-Yahoo employees talking about how folks had abused that privilege, hence the policy change

      I’m with you on seeing people face-to-face. It’s invaluable for brainstorming and meetings.

  • Lee Newton

    Great post! I’ve been working from home 2 days a week for a while now due to commute. It took a few times to get into a routine and get a space to get things knocked out. But now it’s working just fine. The most important thing on my end is to be flexible about moving days based on what needs to get done.

    • Drew Hawkins

      Flexibility is key. One of the factors in a work-from-home privilege is knowing you’ll have to shift your schedule around from time to time based on team or client need. Sounds like a nice set up for you!

  • Guy Bailey

    Interesting thoughts Drew. I think we are at a crosssection of work now, Daniel Pink has made a career addressing it, that the old 9-5, M-F, is past its sell by date with modern life reuirements so flexible working times and days have to bend to accomodate this.

    My industry, Social Media, for example is not a 9-5 job anymore, the most engaged times are on evenings and weekends. I’m nearly 40 and my next position I will incorporate some kind of flexi working or personal time scheme or else I won’t take it. For the average millenial or member of Gen Y or Z, espcially Z, the Yahoo edict would be a personal affront – it’s a cultural shift that companies, the smart ones, are waking up to and adopting.

    the flexible workplace is just being created, it’s here to stay and ignoring or denying it is only going to damage the companies that do.

    • Drew Hawkins

      There’s a lot of validity in a flexible office policy and will become a huge recruiting tool for a lot of places. It’s nice to have the option but what’s more optimal is finding a place you would like going to everyday – with or without flex hours. If you can’t find that base love of the company, the flex hours won’t be as fun either.

  • Barry Kirk

    After more than 15 years of working in corporate “cube and office” land, my transition in the last two years into working remotely for a Silicone Valley startup has made me a big believer in the value of the flexible workplace. I agree its not for everyone, but for the right company/team/employee it clearly can be a boon to productivity and workplace satisfaction.

    Another point about the flexible workplace that I think often gets overlooked — the fact that some 40% of workers are introverts, not extroverts (I’m the former). That means they do their best work when given opportunities for solitude and less distraction. Far too many office environments are “open plans” these days — low or no cube walls, no privacy, endless group meetings and brainstorming sessions. That works well for extroverts, but not for introverts who do their best thinking on their own (i.e at a coffee shop, in their home office, etc.) The flexible work place enables everyone access to environments where they can contribute their best thinking and output.

    • Drew Hawkins

      Agree about allowing employees access to the best environment that compliments their thinking. It would be hard to accomodate all work styles in one office so flexibility would come into play there.

      I’m actually thinking about doing a post on office space setup soon. I’ve transitioned from an office where it was wide open to one where every person has their own office. It’s been a interesting learning process on how it affects collaboration and my own personal productivity.