A few years ago I covered some research that explored the productivity benefits provided by flexible working. Over a nine month period they found that flexible workers:
- achieved more
- were off sick less often
- worked longer hours
- were happier in their work
This was replicated in a recent study conducted by Florida International University, which discovered that people who worked from home typically had much higher engagement levels, whilst also producing more than their office-based peers.
They wanted to explore this phenomenon in more depth to discover whether certain parts of a job can influence the size of the productivity boost received by working from home. In other words, are certain roles better suited to flexible working than others? The analysis revealed four key facets of the job that played a part:
- Job complexity
- Problem solving
- Interdependence levels
- Social support
The results suggest that jobs that were complex and required a limited amount of interpersonal interaction were those where flexible workers performed best. By contrast, when roles required a lot of problem solving, being able to work remotely was less beneficial.
The rationale is quite evident. If you need to focus intently on a complex task that can largely be performed without cooperation with others, then remote working is a fantastic option. This perhaps explains the findings from a second study, from researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Exeter into the happiness of self-employed people.
It found that self-employed workers not only found their work more rewarding, but they also had much higher happiness levels than their peers in full-time work. This is despite the evident flaws of lower job security and often longer working hours than their office based peers.
Freedom to work
This heightened enjoyment largely emerged due to the control people had over their work lives and their work environment. People could decide whether to work on projects that aligned with their values, whilst working at a time and location that suited them.
“Being engaged in their jobs makes people feel energised and pleased with their own contribution,” the researchers say. “Measuring how engaged people are in their work is therefore a really useful way to gauge their wellbeing and shows we must move beyond just looking at job satisfaction.”
The findings were consistent across a range of sectors, and a range of levels of seniority, with those in control of their own destiny also innovating more and stretching their talents in new ways as they adapt to the needs of the marketplace.
“Professional workers who are self-employed really value the autonomy they have. They have the freedom to innovate, express their own views, have influence beyond their own role and compete with other companies and people,” the authors conclude. “They really get to use their own expertise, so don’t seem to mind working long hours. They can find meeting high standards really fulfilling.”
A market for digital nomads
There is an increasingly fertile marketplace for such talented individuals, with countries striving to make themselves as attractive as possible. The nation that has gone further than most is the Baltic minnow Estonia. The country that pioneered E-Residency has recently launched a Digital Nomad Visa that will allow people to work in Estonia for up to 365 days.
What’s more, the visa would also allow them to travel to anywhere in the 26 nation Schengen Area for up to 90 days. Individuals are classed as a digital nomad if they can work independently of location, with most of their work conducted online.
The bill is part of the wider Work in Estonia scheme that aims to ensure that the burgeoning tech sector in Estonia has the skills required to grow.
“The world of work is rapidly changing. Technology is helping more people than ever before to work remotely, allowing millions to offer businesses technical and creative expertise independent of geography. A Digital Nomad Visa represents a breakthrough in the way governments support today’s mobile workforce. We’re delighted to support the Ministry of Interior and are looking forward to making borderless working a reality for digital nomads everywhere,’’ Karoli Hindriks, CEO and founder of Jobbatical, the job marketplace for digital nomads, says.
With digital nomads proven to be more productive, engaged and innovative, it’s perhaps not surprising that countries that are capable of attracting such individuals are themselves more innovative. I published a piece at the end of last year citing several studies highlighting the boost to everything from number of startups to academic output when a country is attractive to ‘citizens of the world’.
It underlines the increasingly global nature of talent management and how both organizations and countries need to think carefully about how they can attract, retain and engage the kind of talent needed to thrive.