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Study: Workplace Flexibility Actually Improves Team Performance

Study: Workplace Flexibility Actually Improves Team Performance

New study reveals strategy to help managers overcome objections to flexible work

Chicago, January 21, 2014 – When Yahoo and Best Buy abandoned their flexible work initiatives last year and called employees back into the office, they cited their need to improve team performance–particularly communication and collaboration. A new study released today shows team functioning and performance can actually improve when teams work flexibly.

Researchers introduced a series of manager activities including focus groups, training, a planning tool, and follow-up support activities over a three-month period. Both manager and employee attitudes were measured before and after the interventions.

Fifty-five percent of the managers who completed the planning tool, called a flex team blueprint, reported improvement in team communication, and 53% reported team interaction improved. Over 41% saw an increase in their team’s understanding of performance goals, 24% said customer service improved, and 20% said productivity improved.

Other shifts in manager attitudes included the following:

  • 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%

“Regardless of how well-designed a company’s approach to workplace flexibility is, if managers aren’t on board and don’t have the skills to manage effectively, it will flounder. It’s as simple as that,” said Delta Emerson, chief of staff at Ryan LLC. “This study is proof positive that it is possible to properly equip managers, even those who might be resistant, to succeed in leading a flexible team.”

Of note, employees reported increased access to flexibility after the research period even though they did not participate directly in the study interventions. Employees were also more likely to believe they could use flexible work without hurting their career, after manager training.

“Managers fear the unknown,” said Kyra Cavanaugh, president of Life Meets Work Inc. one of the study’s researchers. “Their primary role is to make sure work gets done, and workplace flexibility feels like it would get in the way. Building a plan with their employees about how they’ll work together flexibly helped managers overcome their concerns. The plan was key.”

The study offers research-based findings that can help employers increase manager support for workplace flexibility and improve team performance.

“We know that managers have a lot of concerns about workplace flexibility. They worry about availability, fairness, workload, and performance issues,” said Kathy Kacher of Career/Life Alliance Services. “This study shows that, with the right tools, those fears can be overcome. In almost every case, managers reported no negative impact on the business after they built a plan with their employees for how they’d work together in a flexible environment.”

The National Workplace Flexibility Study was sponsored by three participating organizations, Ryan LLC, MedImmune, and Minnesota Department of Transportation, and conducted by research partners Life Meets Work Inc., Boston College Center for Work & Family, and Career/Life Alliance Services Inc.

The full report of the National Workplace Flexibility Study is available at workplaceflex.org

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About the research sponsors:
Ryan LLC is an award-winning global tax services firm, with the largest indirect tax practice in North America and the seventh largest corporate tax practice in the United States. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, the Firm provides a comprehensive range of state, local, federal, and international tax advisory and consulting services. http://ryan.com/

MedImmune is the worldwide biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, a global, innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialization of small molecule and biologic prescription medicines. https://www.medimmune.com

The Minnesota Department of Transportation oversees transportation by land, water, and air in the U.S. state of Minnesota. The agency is responsible for maintaining the state’s trunk highway system (including state highways, U.S. highways, and interstate highways), funding municipal airports and maintaining radio navigation aids, and other activities. http://www.dot.state.mn.us/

About the research partners:
Boston College Center for Work & Family
Founded in 1990, the Boston College Center for Work & Family is a global leader in helping organizations create effective workplaces that support and develop healthy and productive employees. Find us on the web at www.bc.edu/cwf and on Twitter @BCCWF

Career/Life Alliance Services
Founded in 1987, Career/Life Alliance Services, Inc. is an organization dedicated to the development and integration of work-life and workplace flexibility solutions. Find us on the web at http://www.clalliance.com and on Twitter @kjkacher

Life Meets Work Inc.
Life Meets Work is a workforce innovation consultancy, offering workplace strategy that improves team effectiveness and furthers talent-based business objectives around flexible and remote teams. Online at www.lifemeetswork.com and on Twitter @lifemeetswork

 

Visit our blog to read Kyra Cavanaugh’s personal commentary on the study. 

 

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