Many proponents of flexi-work arrangements believe that innovation needs a non-work tranquil environment
Yahoo’s bold move to stop flexi-work might set the tone for rationalizing working arrangements in the industry
Marissa Mayer, CEO of the global internet giant, Yahoo!, announced early this week that employees will no longer enjoy the privilege of flexi-work. Starting June 2013, all Yahoo employees will be required to work out of Yahoo! offices.
This has led to speculation and conversations in business circles on what this development can possibly mean for the global HR fraternity. The business media publication, Fast Company, published an article late last year stating that since 2005, there has been a sizeable increase in the number of companies in the US who have introduced flexi-work arrangements. The number of companies offering flexi-work arrangements has increased from 34% to 63%.
The concept of flexible working came into prominence around the late 90s when large Silicon Valley firms introduced policies that abolished the compulsion of employees needing to commute to office every day or work for fixed hours. While causing a huge stir initially, businesses realized that telecommuting arrangements helped lowering administrative and maintenance costs, increase employee engagement, and drove innovation.
So what possibly could have prompted the Silicon Valley giant to take a step that might appear as regressive and counter-intuitive?
Not necessarily an innovation driver
Many proponents of flexi-work arrangements believe that innovation needs a non-work tranquil environment. Some of the most innovative companies have built “innovation labs” that offer conducive non-work environments. They are characterized by low lighting and are typically devoid of noise.
A set of behavioural scientists, however, believe that there are certain personality types who are driven by the need to collaborate and coordinate in order to innovate. The assumption that flexi-work arrangements drive more innovation is, therefore, fundamentally flawed. Perhaps what an organisation really needs to do is to find a balance and provide opportunities for both sets of employees to flourish and innovate!
Fundamental assumptions on engagement could be flawed
Demographic workforce surveys indicate that workforce preferences have changed radically since the time Gen Y entered the workforce. Almost 80% of the current global workforce comprises Gen Y and hence, organisations are increasingly remodelling organisational policies to accommodate the preferences of this large demographic and build their employer brand. Workforce surveys across geographies indicate that workplace flexibility is a bigger driver than compensation.
The Fast Company article, however, highlights that flexi-work can actually turn out to be a negative engagement driver. Studies reveal that employees who avail flexi-work arrangement end up spending more time on work than regular on-premise employees.
Companies that provide flexi-work arrangements for working mothers with the assumption of higher engagement often realize dip in productivity and output quality. A survey by the US-based institution, Working Mothers Institute, released a report on the state of working women in late 2010. The findings reveal startling discrepancies between an employer’s assumption and the actual result from flexi-work arrangements for working mothers. The survey revealed that 55% of working mothers availing flexi-time arrangements preferred going back to an on-premise arrangement. The most troubling part of the survey was the fact that 71% of working mothers availing flexi-work arrangements revealed that were doing that only for the paycheck.
While commentators on Yahoo believe that the move might spark discontent and dent the company’s employer brand, Mayer’s decision may not be as unwarranted as it appears!