Human Resources, working

Flexible work environments: When do they work?

ERE reported today that Dell is moving to a highly flexible/work from home culture. Dell wants to have up to 50% of eligible employees to have flexible schedules.

Having flexible/work from home cultures have been shown to offer many benefits. Stack Overflow makes it clear that their remote devs often work more hours than those in their office.

However, it’s clear that all is not well in flexible work land. In the past year, two major workplace champions of flexible workplace environments–Yahoo and Best Buy–have both ended their flexible work environments. Both organizations have made it clear that they are in turnaround situations, and that their extraordinary circumstances require an ‘all hands on deck’ culture where everyone is available for collaboration in the office.

What to take away from this? Is a flexible work environment something that can only be applied to a fully healthy company? How does an organization know when it’s appropriate to move to that culture–and that managers understand how to lead employees in that type of environment?

And conversely, what is the threshold of corporate performance where you decide you can no longer afford the apparent luxury of a flexible work environment? How do you retain employees who were hired under that culture (and may have looked upon it as a highly compelling reason to accept that position over another)?

I think if employees have clear line of sight of how their performance impacts company goals and financials–and also understand how to effectively work with other internal stakeholders remotely to get work done–flexible work environments can be very successful. But if there is consistent underperformance–combined with low employee engagement and an overall sense of distrust of employees by executive leadership–it will not work.

What have your experiences been with flexible work environments? Were they effective?



2 thoughts on “Flexible work environments: When do they work?

  1. For banging out code for multiple hours without interruption, I miss having a private office. That said, I also value being able to ping my coworkers synchronously, face-to-face, when I’m stuck. If I had a (private) home office, and could drop into a shared workspace two or three days a week, I think that would be ideal for me, for my job, and for my team.

    Posted by chris.araman | November 26, 2013, 9:41 am
  2. I have worked from home for a company for almost 20 years, and it has been very successful for both me and the company. Many (most) of the company’s employees are remote, and the culture is setup to handle this reasonably well. But, it takes a dedicated employee, and it doesn’t always work. Clear expectations are key, and then management has to monitor performance against these expectations.

    Posted by farquag | January 13, 2014, 5:39 am

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