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Loosen the Reins: Free-Range Workers are Happier

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It’s been less than 30 years since the internet went mainstream, and less than 20 years since speeds became nearly instantaneous. Thanks to real-time access at the click of a button, in many cases the modern workplace is becoming more of a theoretical concept than a physical entity.
 
Workers respond to emails on their smartphones while on business trips thousands of miles away. Gmail, Google Docs and reliable teleconferencing bring the office to your laptop anytime, and nearly anywhere in the world. And for many companies, almost everything that at one point needed to be stored on-premise can now be stored in the cloud.
 
There are now entire companies made up of remote employees, and an increasing number of Fortune 500s, ranging from Humana to Apple, let their employees work remotely at least some of the time. While face-to-face interaction is still critical for complex, cross-functional collaboration, the office has largely become a monument to the 20th century, with the often-needless burdens of sitting in traffic and trying to force business interactions into a 9-to-5 work week.
 
The Satisfaction Gap
With the rise of the Internet of Everything and more accommodative roles for various lifestyles, work schedules are becoming more flexible. So which workers are happiest and which are the most productive? And are these categories mutually exclusive?
 
To find out, we examined data from our 2018 Workplace Productivity Survey. According to our survey of over 1,200 professionals, remote workers garnered the highest workplace satisfaction rating of 78 percent, followed by 70.5 percent for those who travel for work at least half the time. Those who worked on location in a non-office setting reported a job satisfaction rating of 67.4 percent, while those who worked on location in an office came in last with a satisfaction level of 67.2 percent.
 
As work becomes increasingly mobile, the number of virtual workers has increased 115 percent over the last decade. As of 2015, almost 4 million workers, or 3 percent of the U.S. workforce, worked from home at least half of the time — up from 1.8 million in 2005.
 
Studies have shown that employees with flex hours are more productive than their 9-to-5 counterparts. They achieved more, were sick less often, worked longer hours, were happier in their work and less prone to burnout.
 
Free-Range Workers
While many studies have shown that remote workers are more productive, our study found that workers of every stripe wasted an average of two hours a day on non-work tasks, regardless of whether they worked in an office or not. But even if remote workers waste as much time as their in-office counterparts, they are much happier.
 
When asked to list things they would change about their workplace, remote workers responded with answers like “more direct control over outcomes,” “increase my power to influence change” and “leveraging my personal strengths.” They were far less likely to list “low morale and disinterested attitude” as a reason for time wasted at work.
 
Hazards of Working From Home
Remote workers may be happier, but they often feel like they must work harder to build trust and connections with their peers and bosses. Many remote workers feel like their colleagues treat them unequally. They say peers are more likely to leave them out of important meetings, talk badly about them and lobby against them.
 
So how can we fight negative stereotypes surrounding remote work? Managers and teams should check in frequently with remote employees using a range of technologies, including IM, Slack, Skype, email, phone and text. To facilitate these interactions, companies can outfit their conference rooms with televisions and teleconferencing technology, while also mandating in-person meetings weekly, monthly, quarterly or at least yearly.
 
As American companies move away from Henry Ford’s fixed-time assembly line, free-range workers will increasingly become the norm, and remote policies will be essential to hiring top talent. Outcomes, rather than hours worked, will be the measure of a job well done.

Many companies are starting to manage the fact that work is just one facet of an employee’s life. Besides being more motivated, engaged and productive, employees with a better relationship to work report less stress, better mental health, better physical health, and improved sleep patterns — all factors that lower company healthcare costs, improve safety, enable higher performance and greater employee loyalty. Healthier, happier workers can often mean healthier, happier bottom lines.
 
In the modern work environment, Velocity isn’t about how long you work, but rather how well you work together. To jumpstart your productivity, and the productivity of your non-traditional workforce, contact Consequent and check out The Velocity Advantage.               

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