Last year, Yahoo and Best Buy made headlines for ending their telecommuting and flexible work programs. Employees, they stipulated, needed to be brought back into the office and put on more structured, rigid schedules to ensure collaboration, productivity, and solid performance. But a new study by Life Meets Work, Career/Life Alliance Services, and Boston College Center for Work & Family finds that it’s the managers, not the employees, who companies should be focusing on in order to have successful flexible working initiatives.

The National Workplace Flexibility Study found that workplace flexibility actually improves team performance when managers are given the right tools and training. When it comes down to it, old management techniques that worked for in-office employees won’t cut it for telecommuting and flexible workers.

Best Practices to Manage a Flexible Working Team

Managers were given a series of activities and tools to implement over a three-month period. Career/Life Alliance and 1 Million for Work Flexibility Supporters Life Meets Work and BCCWF explain: “The research team developed a variety of activities directed toward managers to help them overcome resistance and successfully lead flexible work teams.”

The managers learned how to formulate clear, easily-understood flexible work policies and how to measure employees’ understanding of them.

The Study Results: How Flexible Working Improves Performance

The results of this study show that by changing the way we manage flexible workforces, we can actually leverage them to be more productive than traditional ways of working.

  • 55% of managers experienced improved team communication
  • 53% had improved team interaction
  • 41% of managers saw increased understanding of performance goals by their team
  • 24% experienced improved customer service
  • 23% of managers were more confident in appropriate use of flexible work arrangements by their teams
  • 20% of managers noticed improved productivity

The study also had a positive effect on the typical concerns we hear about from managers regarding telecommuting and flexible employees:

  • Concerns that flexible work arrangements would be used inappropriately decreased 23%
  • Concerns that policies were ambiguous or unclear decreased 19%
  • Concerns over how to evaluate flexibility requests decreased 21%
  • Concerns over how to reach employees if there is a crisis decreased 20%

This study is proof that trained, supported, and properly equipped managers are more than capable of leading flexible teams and improving employee performance, regardless of where, when, or how that employee works.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the study and the findings? Are tools and training for managers truly the key to making flexible working successful?

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