Are the benefits of flexible working time limited?

Handsome businessman with eyeglasses working from homeBeing able to work from home is widely regarded as a beneficial thing in that employees tend to work longer hours, yet are less stressed than their office based peers, often by simply removing the commute from their day.

Alas, a recent study from a researcher at the London School of Economics suggests that such gains have a shelf-life and tend to vanish over time.

The study, of some 500 employees, revealed that over a prolonged period, those working from home tended to revert back to the norms shown by their office based peers.  The author suggests that this is because after a while, remote working ceases to be seen as novel or a privilege, and thus we revert to our normal ways.

Reversion to the mean

“This study provides a glimpse into a future where flexible working practices could become business as usual and seen as an entitlement by employees, especially among the younger generation. Whereas once people saw it as a favour and felt the need to reciprocate and give back more to the organisation for having that benefit, in this future, they will not,” the author says.

It is not all a bed of roses however, with employees growing to resent the costs involved in working from home, whilst managers can fall into the trap of thinking employees are loafing off.

The key to have successful home workers is to properly manage expectations, perhaps by encouraging employees to work remotely some of the time whilst coming to the office the rest of the week.

Of course, this does assume that work should be undertaken either at home or in the office, and there are a number of new spaces cropping up that offer alternatives, whether co-working spaces or corporate innovation hubs that allow employees to rub shoulders with startups and academics.

Either of these might allow an employee to enjoy some of the benefits of remote working, such as a shorter commute, whilst also reducing the risk of professional isolation and knowledge sharing with peers from inside and outside the organization.

Of course, that doesn’t negate the difficulties many managers have in accurately gauging the work an employee does, and I can’t help but think that until that is resolved and we therefore gain a better idea of who is contributing what, this issue will never really go away.

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