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Sandy Says: Flexibility is Good

Jan. 5, 2012
And I’m not talking about yoga…

I worked from home yesterday. I’m always shocked by how much more work I can get done at home – despite plenty of opportunities for distraction – than I get done on an average day at work.

I worked from home yesterday because I had a feature I needed to wrap up. It involved editing and condensing the answers of our EHS leaders for the Look Ahead article on p. 26. I’ve been fumbling with the article for days, partially because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to organize it (by respondent, by question, by topic) and partly because we’re in the middle of production and there easily are 20 questions a day that can take me out of my “writing zone” and into my “editor” or “manager” zone.

While I’m a good multi-tasker, my brain was feeling fried and I decided that a day away from my ringing office phone, continual email updates and office chat would do me some good. And I was right: By 2 p.m., I had edited a contributed feature, finished my feature and put the EHS News department together. I also managed to wash and dry two loads of clothes, take the dogs for a walk, wash a sink full of dishes, make myself a decent lunch and watch a half hour more of CNN than I usually watch in the morning.

By the time I decided to wrap up my day of working from home – 4:30 pm or so – I didn’t feel fried and I was in a decidedly better mood than I often experience at the end of the workday. As an added bonus, I got a considerable amount of “real” work finished.

Don’t get me wrong; I genuinely like my coworkers and enjoy my work environment. I feel that it’s important to be in the office most days and I don’t have a horrible commute. But some days, I just don’t want to be in the office when normal business hours dictate I should be in the office.

Apparently, I’m not the first person to experience this phenomenon…

A recent study of 608 employees at Best Buy headquarters in Richfield, Minn., examined their reaction to the company’s flexible workplace initiative: the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). The initiative redirected the focus of employees and managers towards measurable results and away from when and where work is completed. Employees were allowed to routinely change when and where they worked based on their individual needs and job responsibilities without seeking permission from a manager or even notifying one.

Researchers found that employees participating in the flexible workplace initiative:

➤ Reported getting 52 extra minutes of sleep on nights before work;

➤ Were less likely to feel obligated to work when sick and more likely to go to a doctor when necessary, even when busy;

➤ Reported an increased sense of schedule control and a reduction in work-family conflict which, in turn, improved their sleep quality, energy levels, self-reported health and sense of personal mastery while decreasing their emotional exhaustion and psychological distress.

“Our study shows that moving from viewing time at the office as a sign of productivity, to emphasizing actual results can create a work environment that fosters healthy behavior and well-being,” said Moen. “This has important policy implications, suggesting that initiatives creating broad access to time flexibility encourage employees to take better care of themselves.”

During my one-day experiment in flexible working arrangements, I can vouch for improved energy levels and decreased emotional exhaustion. Once work was done, I was able to relax, because the tasks that normally I’d start at the end of the workday – walking the dogs, washing dishes, doing laundry – were done. I didn’t feel like I came home to a second round of work.

While working from home doesn’t qualify as a “staycation,” I highly recommend it if you are able to work from home and are feeling so stressed that small distractions become large drains on your time and energy. Not only will you get more work finished, but you’ll feel better at the end of the day.

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