October 8, 2007

Let Me Work

Recently a friend was complaining about the lack of flexibility at his IT workplace. Working from home is looked down upon even though most work is independently executed and most workers have connectivity from home. Management permission is needed for leaving the workplace between 8-5 for even a 30 minute break. The list goes on but the outcome is unmotivated employees, lack of productivity and management attention focused on watching the clock.

On the other end are progressive companies who are exploring new and more flexible ways of engaging their employees. Home Depot has implemented a radical model where employees can work from anywhere, anytime as long as their weekly assignments are completed. Telecommuting is being encouraged to provide appropriate work/life balance opportunities to workers.

"In April 2006, all four employees of San Francisco software developer Red Swoosh Inc. decamped to a beach in Thailand -- for six weeks. They hoped to rejuvenate a team, and product, that had fallen into a rut. The Red Swoosh team battled bugs, a pesky monkey and tropical squalls while writing code on laptops at a seaside café. And that, says founder Travis Kalanick, was exactly what they needed. By the time the engineers returned in June, they had not only rewritten the software and reworked an Internet-sales site, but boosted morale and bonded as a team, he says.
Excerpt from WSJ - Software Firm Learns Rules of Disengagement
In today’s highly competitive and talent hungry environment – companies and managers have to rethink their worker’s engagement. The factory mentality of punching in for a 8-5 shift is obsolete. The knowledge workers of today are geographically spread, constantly on the move and highly connected.

Focus on Output
Management focus should be on output, not worker location. Defining weekly objectives and getting the team to execute on those objectives should be the management mantra. Workers should have the flexibility to organize their schedules, manage their time and choose appropriate work locations. This approach still needs to be tempered with certain rules and accountability for effort tracking, team meetings, client meetings etc but this approach makes the worker accountable for their assignment and provides a better engagement model.

Using the Tools
Video conferencing, teleconferencing, blackberries, WiFi – there is no dearth of technologies that create a virtual work environment. The bigger challenge today is how to “unplug”? With this level of connectivity – physical proximity becomes less relevant in most situations. IM, cell phones and email are used more even in a physical office – so why not leverage these technologies to truly have a virtual work environment.

Win Win
When you give your employees the freedom, flexibility and opportunity they seek – they will return the favor. A happy and engaged employee with be motivated to give his 100%. The employees get the growth and flexibility they desire and the company gets the productivity they seek – a true win win.

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