As commutes grow and cubicles shrink, workers in the United States are eagerly exploring the potential of flexible work arrangements. Likewise, more and more employers are considering policies that allow employees to work whenever and wherever they can be most productive. A survey commissioned last year by Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Vista mobility team to study attitudes toward this trend found that 77 percent of American office workers interviewed would like the opportunity to shift their work hours or to work remotely. While 37 percent said they consider technology to be their biggest barrier, workers also are optimistic about new advances - with 87 percent reporting that new technology usually made their job easier.
For employers considering mobile, flexible work policies, the survey suggested that employee satisfaction could be the biggest benefit, with two out of three respondents (66 percent) reporting the arrangement would give them a more positive attitude toward their work. And workers who have tried flextime were overwhelmingly positive about the benefits, with 74 percent reporting that having more flexibility gave them a more positive outlook toward their job.
A majority of workers (55 percent) interested in flexible working arrangements and working remotely were focused on the expected savings of time and money currently spent on their commute to work, far outpacing other benefits such as the ability to set their own work hours (12 percent), spending more time with their family (9 percent), and being more productive (7 percent).
While 69 percent of those interested in workplace flexibility expected it would be easy to set up their laptop to work remotely, survey respondents conveyed lingering concerns about those arrangements. Two out of three respondents were still concerned with the security of sending confidential e-mails or documents from outside the office. One in five said they feared they would feel "out of the loop" if they worked in a flexible environment. Similar concerns are often cited by employers who have not yet embraced flextime and remote work arrangements.
"Even once the technology is in place, employers are often not as excited about flextime arrangements as employees, but they should be," said Patricia Roehling, a professor of psychology at Hope College and the former director of research at the Cornell Employment and Family Careers Institute.
"Studies have found that between 75 and 85 percent of workers were more productive when working in a flexible environment, and that employers can trim absenteeism by 60 percent which, in one study, saved an employer up to $2,000 per employee per year. Finally, workers who are allowed to work remotely report greater job satisfaction and commitment and are less likely to voluntarily leave their job or look for another job," Roehling said.
In addition, the Windows Vista survey found that almost half of those surveyed (45 percent) would be willing to put in a few extra hours per week if they could work on a flextime schedule.
Roehling offered these tips for those exploring flextime or remote work arrangements:
For employees:Have clearly defined times during which work life does not intrude into family life.
Arrange your remote office so you are not vulnerable to outside distractions during your identified work hours.
Set up regular times to connect with managers and co-workers, either in the home or the office, or via phone or Windows Live Messenger.
Check in regularly with your supervisor and keep your employer up-to-date about the work you have produced.
Have reliable, high-speed connections to the Internet, preferably using virtual private networking (VPN) to connect to company servers more securely.
Consider using a Windows Mobile-powered Smartphone, which allows you to easily access all your critical business information while you are away from your home or office PC.
For employers:Clearly define roles and functions, and set guidelines for regular communication between flex workers and supervisors.
Have clear expectations around starting and ending work times.
Require new employees to work from the office initially so managers and coworkers can get to know and trust each other, and so the employee can learn about the company culture.
Clearly identify the expected work outcomes and evaluation criteria.
About the Survey
The Flextime Survey was conducted by Kelton Research between April 13 and April 18, 2007, using an e-mail invitation and an online survey. Quotas were set to ensure a reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population of office workers. The sample size was 542 nationally representative American office workers; 104 of those 542 work on a flextime schedule at least occasionally.
Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary by more than plus or minus 4.2 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.