February 27, 2013 — A recent memo from Yahoo! management calling for all virtual workers to begin working from the office has reignited the discussion surrounding work-life effectiveness and flexibility. Responses were rapid and widespread, from a Google exec who agreed with Yahoo’s new policy to Virgin CEO Richard Branson, who Tweeted that workers excel when given a choice of where to work and Lisa Belkin, coiner and chronicler of the so-called “opt-out revolution,” who labeled Yahoo’s policy a throwback to a model of work that no longer exists, in which work and home were entirely separate realms.
These articles and many more have compelled me to reflect on how work “works” best—for me as an employee and for my family. This is also what will, I hope, continue to work in the future, for many people, as workforces and workplaces adapt and evolve.
When I was first hired at Catalyst, I spent several years working full-time from our headquarters in New York. For the last seven years, however, I have been working remotely from my home. I don’t have enough space in this brief post to convey how much this flexibility has meant to me (in that I could continue doing a job I loved, even when my family relocated), my family (in that my husband and I can both have fulfilling careers without choosing whose job to put first), and, I believe, my employer (which has been able to retain a qualified and extremely committed employee).
Many companies benefit from having virtual workers. Even more importantly—and I say this as an employee currently located 487 miles from my boss and team—companies benefit from having a flexible workplace, in which employees feel they have some control over the process and outcome of their work and are empowered to do what needs to be done, both at work and in life. Many companies have discovered that having employees who feel they can make and keep doctors’ appointments without stress, attend their kids’ plays/recitals/games, and even occasionally work from home while waiting for the cable guy benefits both individual workers and the organization as a whole.
The modern workplace is constantly evolving. Just as there is no such thing as an approach that works perfectly for every single employee, there is no one-size-fits-all model for running a company. The challenge, these days, is to figure out what works best for you (and/or your family—although it’s important to remember that flexibility isn’t just about people with children) and to find a workplace which supports that. This won’t be possible for everyone—fire fighters and retail workers can’t telecommute, though they too need some flexibility some of the time. But for many of us, the vast majority of our work (sending emails, making phone calls, writing documents) can be done from anywhere.
In a rapidly changing world, it’s become more and more crucial to conceive of and create the kind of agile workplace—one that is responsive to the needs of employees and employers alike—that will better serve individual workers, companies, customers, and communities.
Some believe that the most effective workplace is one in which employees regularly collaborate in person. What works best at Catalyst, and certainly what works best for me, is having the opportunity and the freedom to work both at home and in the office. I enjoy and benefit from working on specific projects and events and trading ideas with colleagues in person whenever possible—and I am prepared to do the same via the many technologies available when face time isn’t an option.
What do you think? Tell us what model of working “works” best for you and your company in the comments section below!