How flexible work environments can benefit both businesses and employees

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Does your company encourage employees to work from home when it suits them? Do you personally prefer heading to the office or staying put and avoiding the commute? Or are you old-school, and vehemently believe that employees need to be at the office, face-to-face, to optimize productivity and encourage team-building?

In the past few years, I’ve worked at an organization with a woefully antiquated office culture. Eyebrows were raised if anyone walked in after 9 or left before 5:30, not to mention the utter dismay if any employee dared to take an hour lunch. Since then, I’ve worked for companies that leave it up to their employees to decide when and if they’re coming to the office or working from home. As my boss said when he hired me: “I don’t care if I ever see you. I just want the work to get done.”

I can obviously only speak anecdotally — but I get a lot more done, and work far more hours, when I work from home. The 90 minutes or more required to shower, put on makeup, make my hair look presentable and then get on the streetcar to get to the office is time I spend working. As I type this, in fact, it’s 7:45 a.m., and I am still in my bathrobe. I have already sent off a lengthy email on behalf of a client, put some finishing touches on an op-ed I’m writing, tried to figure out why my Mac is causing me headaches with help from a colleague who’s also at home, reached out to another client about potential business, and now started in on this blog post. If there had been a requirement for me to be at the office by 9, I’d be getting out of the shower right now and away from my laptop for two hours, and none of that aforementioned work would have been completed.

There’s research to back up the benefits of working from home, both for employees and businesses. The University of Guelph has found that the average resident in southwestern Ontario saves $12,000 a year by telecommuting three days a week.

Benefits for businesses include reduced costs in terms of renting out office space, happier employees and an ability to hire the absolute best candidates, no matter where they’re physically located.

The Conference Board of Canada has also found employers have warmed to it, with nine out of 10 companies surveyed saying they promote working from home.

There are also some unintended benefits, like fewer cars on the road, and more opportunities for those with accessibility issues.

That’s not to say the always-in-the-office culture is completely bogus. In some industries and sectors, it’s obviously a far better way to operate. It can foster stronger working relationships among team members, stoke creativity and ensure the team’s skills as a whole are put to use more effectively.

And even if you opt for a flexible workplace in which employees can come and go as they please, there’s no question your team needs to meet face to face on a fairly regular basis to brainstorm, hash out ongoing issues and just get to know one another a bit better. That’s how we operate at Provident.

But if your business is looking to attract the best and brightest, consider advocating a flexible work culture that includes the ability to work from home. You’ll likely not only to get more hours out of your employees, you’ll also have a happier staff.