1 Million for Work Flexibility director Emma Plumb recently wrote a piece on LinkedIn called “Fixing Uber’s Failings with a Lesson from Its Successes” that generated a boisterous conversation on work flexibility, tech, gender equity, and business design. In this “Busting the Myths” series, we respond to some of the concerns voiced by readers in the comments section about the practicality of work flexibility.

“As a beneficiary of ‘work at home’ and a manager of people who ‘worked from home’, my conclusion is that it prevents team creation, team innovation, and team momentum—three issues that are required to accelerate ideas and development of new products. IBM learned long ago to respect ‘work from home’ but never measure. IBM-Ginny

[sic], now questions, and is reeling in the line on ‘work at home’ for good reason.”
-Ed Bradford

Let’s be clear: working from home doesn’t impede team creation, innovation, or momentum. An inflexible work environment does.

The problem with inflexible environments

Here’s what we mean: Imagine that a brick-and-mortar business has all of its employees report to the workplace each and every day. The company does not have a flexible work policy, even though many of its competitors may have one. Now, let’s look closer at some of the company’s employees to see how creation, innovation, and momentum can be negatively impacted by the lack of flexibility.

One employee, Michelle, is a working mom. One of her children twists her ankle in the morning before school starts and has to go the doctor. Michelle is forced to take a sick day because she can’t send her child to school. If her company allowed her to work from home, she would be able to work remotely, while still making sure her child is safe. When an employee is forced to choose between job and family, momentum is stalled—and innovation is also inhibited, since there is less time (or motivation) to brainstorm new ideas and think of bigger-picture plans.

Another worker, Ted, is feeling under the weather. But because he has to come into the office, he does—coughing and sneezing throughout the workplace, getting others on his team sick. Ted gets worse, because he can’t take care of himself properly in the office, and as his symptoms spread to others, there is an overall lack of focus among his team, as well as a spike in absenteeism. Both could have easily been prevented if the company offered flex. After all, if Ted had been able to stay at home, he could have worked comfortably from there, without exposing his colleagues. 

A third worker, Jeff, is struggling to find the right person for his team in the local area. Then he finds the perfect applicant, but they live in another state. He’s not able to make the hire, because the applicant is a military spouse who can’t move for the job. As a result, his team loses out on the potential of a strong asset as well as a diverse perspective. A competitor with a remote work policy hires the candidate instead.

These examples are just three of a myriad of circumstances that highlight how team creation, team innovation, and team momentum can all be crushed due to a lack of workplace flexibility. By the same token, they highlight how having a flexible work policy in place can give employees the freedom to work from home—and help the company thrive at the same time.

Why remote work works

In a remote work environment, there are far fewer boundaries as to where people can work. Expanding the talent pool from those who live within a close proximity to, well, the world, can give companies a significant advantage. Not only does that open up the possibility for hiring workers across time zones who can, in theory, provide 24/7 coverage, but it also leads to benefits from hearing fresh new ideas for the company from the best and the brightest workers around the world. Hiring remote workers is team creation at its finest, since you can hire the best from anywhere.

Team momentum is a direct result of how happy a company’s workers are. If workers are engaged, listened to, respected, and given autonomy to self-manage as they work remotely, they will feel like they are valued by the company and actually work harder. Momentum will increase as workers’ commitment level grows.

Team innovation comes from both workers and managers working together to produce the best effort possible. But this can only be achieved if employers and employees are in sync with each other. This synchronicity happens when managers have an open-door policy with their workers, encouraging them to come to them with both ideas as well as irksome issues. It also requires managers to implement the necessary tools for workers to be able to connect and collaborate with each other. In short, innovation doesn’t have to happen in a conference room or around the water cooler—innovation can happen in a virtual conference room or in a group chat with workers all over the world.

The design, innovation, and momentum necessary for teams to thrive depends a whole lot less on location and more on companies empowering employees to live their best lives, on both a professional and personal level.

photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com