Flexible Work Options. Are You Brave Enough?

Flexible Work Options. Are You Brave Enough?

Eight years ago, before I came to work at ViRTUS, I fell into an exciting job. The head office is in Waterloo, Ontario and I live in Vancouver. They needed a facilitator on the West Coast and so I had the much coveted clause in my contract, “work from home”.

Working from home has changed the way I look at work. Earlier in my career, I experienced what I call the “optics trap”. Feeling like I needed to be the first one in and the last one out for my manager to perceive me as a hard worker. Ugh!

Working from home makes me feel trusted by my leaders to get the job done wherever and whenever I like. This is incredible freedom and a huge motivator for me. I completely agree with Richard Branson’s point of view. “The key for me is that in today’s world I do not think it is effective or productive to force your employees one way or another. Choice empowers people and makes for a more content workforce.” 

In spite of the mounting evidence to support flexible work options, we still aren’t seeing a rapid decline of bricks and mortar. Yahoo and Best Buy’s decision to revoke their flexible work options last year begged the question, does this really work”? And so the debate drones on. Sigh.

“Establishing the correct culture is not easy – that is why those organisations that get it right stand out. And as a leader, you need to really empower and trust your team. You need to build an honest environment where communication is paramount, feedback is continuous and two-way.  And where you are brave enough to offer flexibility and choice, it means you do not have to see your team to know if they are doing a great job.” Carla Stent, “Rise and Fall of the Flexible Workplace Series”

In my experience, I had a lot of support and encouragement from my leaders to maintain my productive work from home status. My leaders always found a way to foster team work and camaraderie in spite of the fact that we were a five-hour plane ride away from each other. I was always patched in through video chat for weekly team meetings and was really touched by the creative virtual baby shower my manager and colleagues planned for me before I went away on maternity leave. It became clear to me that almost everything could be done in some way virtually; it just required support and a little out-of-the-box thinking.

In some ways I worked harder than my colleagues to stay connected and be part of the team. I worked to Eastern hours, picked up the phone and used video chat as much as possible. I was diligent about blocking off time for one-on-one meetings with leaders or decision makers almost daily and for sure weekly.

Five months ago, I found myself embarking on a new career transition. Finding something that allowed me to work from home was at the top of my criteria list – even above salary. Enter ViRTUS. This company used to have an office in the heart of Vancouver’s hipster area Yaletown. After a few short years they gave up the space and went virtual.

Mike Desjardins, Driver & CEO at ViRTUS admits the hardest part of transitioning from an office to going virtual was, “Feeling like another shoe was going to drop and there was something critical we had missed. The reality was things got easier and faster. The hardest part was something completely unexpected. The team lost some of their personal wellness because we didn’t set up boundaries around work/life and ended up working a lot more.”

Mike continues by saying that, “The biggest rewards have been implementing fantastic social technology such as Yammer, our Wiki, our virtual world in AvayaLive (see Laura Mack’s post below from January for more on this!) and Basecamp. We also spend more time together “in-person” as we use Skype video or WebEx to communicate during the day. The virtual world we have set up in AvayaLive helps us “level the playing field” between Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, simulating an experience that feels like we’re all in the same place.

Mike agrees that properly executing flexible work options comes down to leadership. He advises leaders to, “Set your team free to work wherever they feel most productive. All they need is a laptop, a smartphone and a quiet place to work.”

Hopefully this has helped ease some anxieties over the thought of letting your staff go, or maybe this has confirmed beliefs you already have on the subject. Either way, I know this is where we are headed in the future. Now, the question I have for you is, “Are you brave enough to offer your employees a choice on where they work?”


Amanda Prelazzi is an Instructional Designer at ViRTUS

Amanda Prelazzi
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