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ON FLEXIBLE WORKING HOURS

By Francis Wade

Sunday, February 5, 2012.

A few years ago, I remember talking with a friend who was telecommuting and saving an hour each way in traffic.  At first, it sounded great!  That is, until I heard about the electronic snooping, keystroke recording, logging and clicking in, and webcams that were used to track whether or not she was really working or goofing off.

It sounded worse than working in the office.

A couple of companies have moved in completely the opposite direction, and given their employees complete freedom to set their own hours.  What’s remarkable is that these companies are are well-known national retailers:  Best Buy and the Gap.

Not only are they allowing their employees the freedom to do this, but in a recent study of the results at Best Buy, those who chose to set their own hours were found to be taking better care of their health, experiencing less work-family conflict and reduced turnover (from 11% to 6%.)

While this is good news, it would be interesting to know what the impact might be on the productivity of the salespeople who are the targets of the ROWE program. (ROWE stands for “Results Only Work Environment.”)  That would truly get the attention of forward-looking companies.

What caught my attention, however, was the fact that there was a control group that did not sign up for the ROWE program.  It made me think that there might be some who are just not interested in that much freedom, and just want to collect a paycheck for doing a certain amount of work.

It also made me think that the company would do well to give their employees in the ROWE program an opportunity to upgrade their time management skills. Simply giving employees the ability to manage their own time does not necessarily mean that they are more effective.

In fact, giving them more freedom would make things more difficult for anyone who must now make a number of new decisions about how they schedule their time, for the very first time.  Without higher skills, they could easily find that their productivity drops.

This isn’t as unusual as it sounds.  Whenever we undergo major life changes, it’s often the case that a review and upgrade of our personal productivity is required, just to be as productive as we were before the change occurred.

For example, I moved my place of residence over the weekend to an older residence with a gorgeous view of the Jamaican interior.  As beautiful as the view is, moving has always caused a dip in my productivity as habits that were prompted by the physical environment need to be re-crafted from scratch.

The effect of these major life changes, whether they be a relocation or a ROWE program, is tremendous, and they deserve to be respected as such.  It’s a good time to revisit our time management systems to see whether or not they can, in fact, hold up.

Francis Wade is a management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. He blogs at  http://www.2time-sys.com/

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