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Balancing act: Telework Week poll dispels work-life myths

Published: Tuesday, March 4 2014 11:08 p.m. MST

Welcome to Telework Week 2014. I feel like I should mark the occasion by working from home at least one day this week, but a quick glance at my schedule shows that I have too many meetings. I will, however, share some new research about flex work.

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If your work-life balance is improved by a flexible arrangement that allows you to telecommute, this is a week to celebrate.

Welcome to Telework Week 2014!

I feel like I should mark the occasion by working from home at least one day this week, but a quick glance at my schedule shows that I have too many meetings. Sigh.

I guess I'll have to remember this holiday of sorts the next time I am able to telecommute.

And even though I'll be in my cubicle instead of at my kitchen table at home, I will recognize the week by sharing some new research about flex work.

For instance, it seems that 31 percent of people do most of their work away from their employer's site. And that's just the first surprising statistic in the study, which comes courtesy of the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc. (FSG/WLF).

The national probability survey, conducted by ORC International, was based on interviews with 556 full-time employed adults and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

In addition to indicating that almost a third of people were working at home, in coffee shops or in other remote locations, the survey showed that 71 percent of teleworkers were men.

Does that surprise you? I was shocked, although I probably shouldn't have been. I guess I've been too accepting of the stereotype that people who work from home are more likely to be women, probably of the younger generation, who have at least one school-age child.

It turns out that impression is wrong on all points.

According to the survey, about the same percentage of teleworkers do and do not have children. And the ages of people who work remotely cover a wide range, with 35 percent in Generation Y (18-29 years old), 30 percent in Generation X (30-49 years old) and 30 percent baby boomers (50 and older).

“Almost one-third of the work that gets done today gets done from home, coffee shops and other locations, yet too many corporate leaders treat telework as a disposable option, as in the case of Yahoo,” said Cali Williams Yost, CEO of Flex+Strategy Group, in a prepared statement about the survey. “Telework is not a perk, and it’s certainly not just for moms and Gen Y. Rather, it’s an operational strategy. Think of it as anything less and organizations ignore what has become a vital part of their business and the way their people actually work.”

I agree. As I've written before, flexible work arrangements in industries that can logically accommodate them can significantly improve productivity even as they help employees improve their work-life balance. In other words, it can be a real win-win.

I know this won't work for all businesses or for all workers. Any flexible work programs need to be thoughtfully designed and fairly implemented. But I've seen them work, and I think more companies should consider their potential benefits.

This is especially important when you consider some of the challenges faced by the average office cubicle-dweller.

According to the FSG/WLF survey, 30 percent of people said they did their jobs from a private office at a company location, while 33 percent worked in a cube or open office environment at the employer site. Breaking this down by gender, 43 percent of women said they worked in cubicles or open office spaces, compared to 27 percent of men.

The FSG/WLF press release about the survey said that those cubicle dwellers are struggling in several ways. For example, many reported a lack of work-life flexibility. They also were more likely to say they didn't try to improve that flexibility because "it might hurt your career/others think you don't work as hard."

“As organizations continue to squeeze more people into less square footage, they will be increasingly confronted with the limitations of open office plans and forced to accept that work-life flexibility is a solution to where, when and how employees can get their work done with greater focus and performance,” Yost said in the prepared statement.

“Whether they work remotely or together on site, we need to help employees develop the critical skill set needed to manage their work-life fit so they can successfully capture the best of collaborative and remote work environments.”

It's true that most companies will need their employees to work together in the same place quite often. For example, the team of writers and editors I manage is a highly collaborative group, passing projects back and forth and engaging in spirited conversations about what we should and shouldn't be doing.

However, many members of my team also work from home at least one day each week, and that has had primarily positive effects on our projects. They often tell me that they're able to push through a lot of work when they're home, away from the distractions of Cubeville. When they come back to the office, they're ready to get down to business and work together.

I hope that, when they're sitting in their home offices or at their kitchen tables this week, my team members will be thankful for the work-life flexibility they have. I also hope more of us will be able to enjoy our own Telework Week celebrations from somewhere other than a cubicle in the years to come.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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