As the number of organizations turning their backs on flexible work­­­ environments continues to grow, it’s easy to make assumptions as to why the trend has flip-flopped. For example, results failed to meet expectations or productivity numbers dropped.

However, those assumptions would be way off base. The prevailing reason behind the shift has little to do with the results, as John Simons writes in this Wall Street Journal article.

Bosses acknowledge that remote workers don’t suffer from productivity problems. Research has found telecommuters who can work outside normal office hours and don’t have to spend time commuting often are more productive than their cubicle-bound counterparts. Rather, managers want their teams within view and are willing to trade some efficiency for the serendipity that office-based conversations might yield.”

Leveraging collaboration

Understandably, creativity and innovation get a boost when diverse team members have the ability to actively engage with one another, sharing ideas and leveraging the valuable trust that builds over time.

After all, it is the recognition of this dynamic that has prompted significantly more team-based work assignments. According to a 2016 Deloitte survey found only 38 percent of companies are “functionally” organized today with workers grouped together by job type. Instead, most progressive organizations now embrace collaborative groups that shift depending on the work at hand.

To facilitate this collaborative innovation, managers instinctively want their team members in the office at work at least some—if not most—of the time, according to this article in Bloomberg. “More than 60 percent of organizations surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management this year said they allow some type of telecommuting, up from 20 percent in 1996. But telecommuting comes in many flavors, and 77 percent of organizations don’t let people work from home on a full-time basis.”

It’s not all or nothing

A flexible work environment doesn’t have to be stringent to yield benefits. For instance, an arrangement that calls for employees to spend three days (Tuesday-Thursday) in the office with Monday and Friday being remote days affords both parties what they desire. Employees have some flexibility and avoid the most hectic commute times, and managers get the satisfaction of physically seeing their employee base.

Additionally, successful teams don’t thrive because they are sitting in the same space. Teams thrive because people build trust with one another. And trust does not have to be the result of sitting shoulder to shoulder with a teammate. The biggest difference is in the type of trust team members foster with one another, according to Lena Lid and Tomas Lid Falkman.

“In a team that collaborates virtually, trust is created based on actions. Trust emerges based on how the team members deliver. If I experience that my team mate, who I might never have met, contributes wisely in meetings, produces smart pieces of work and delivers on promises in a timely manner, I start to trust this person. This action-based trust can actually be seen as truer, or more relevant for work, than a relation-based trust.”

Teams still have the ability to build innovate, collaborate and build trust remotely when they are properly equipped with the right tools. Specifically, access to video conferencing technology that empowers team members to engage in natural face-to-face interactions to keep collaboration moving. Additionally, access to such collaborative tools can enables cost savings to organizations as well.

Keeping the team together

As government agencies already understand, abandoning flexible work arrangements could be making a significant mistake.

The GAO found that the top three telework benefits identified by agencies were improved recruitment and retention, improved work-life balance and increased productivity. A survey conducted by Federal New Radio in June found that millennials rated both telework and work-life balance as key factors in why they choose to work in federal service.


Bottom line, with 62 percent of employees taking advantage of anywhere working on some level, flexibility has become a work-life benefit that people enjoy. Failing to meet this need could result in some organizations seeing their top performers testing the waters for new opportunities.