For as long as most of us can remember, the structure of our work lives has been fairly conventional: we have managers at the top who supervise us and determine what needs to get done; and we work the same eight hours a day (or more), five days a week. Over the last decade or so, progressive businesses have taken a more “bottom-up” approach, recognizing the added value gained by allowing employees to drive projects in a more autonomous manner. When implemented properly, this approach has proven to make companies more agile, creative, and productive.
But there’s something else new on the horizon: following the same logic of autonomy, some businesses are now realizing the benefits of allowing their workers to choose their individual work hours and location. In short, some progressive businesses are beginning to recognize the advantages of keeping an open workflow policy.
The drawback of a closed workflow
All managers want their employees to be as productive as possible. Companies are structured to maximize efficiency. The consolidation of work hours and location is an extension of this drive toward maximum efficiency and production. It’s fair to say that it’s a bit mechanistic (like an evolved assembly line). Now all that has to be done is to “plug-in” the worker, right? This is the problematic part, and a few businesses today have begun realizing this issue, as evidenced by changes in the management/employee relation.
Employees can’t just activate or sustain high-level productivity at the flip of a switch. Productivity waxes and wanes just like any human tendency. People may try their best to adapt to a mechanistic workflow, but it doesn’t always work. Perhaps a better solution might be to design a workflow that adapts to the nature of human productivity.
What does an open workflow look like?
Let’s break it down to the basics. People do things because they want something in return. In a work scenario, some employees desire the work itself as much as the pay while others just desire the pay. Whatever the case may be, at the core of this dynamic is motivation. Implementing an open workflow adds a new dynamic to work motivation—the desire to work more freely.
If you force someone to work in a specific way, the motivation to work is not entirely intrinsic. On the other hand, if you gave someone a relative amount of freedom to do his work, then you may be able to better see someone’s quality of work based on self-initiative. An open workflow is one of the best ways to establish a workforce that driven by self-initiative.
Benefits of an open workflow for businesses
Open workflow attracts workers: according to a survey by IT consulting firm Softchoice, at least 70% of an entire workforce would quit their current jobs for a chance to work from home. Offering an open workflow can be a form of competitive advantage as it offers something of a rare and greater value—the freedom to choose when and where to work—that most companies do not offer.
Increase in revenue and productivity: In a WSJ article dating back to 2013, it has been reported that a number of companies that have allowed employees to work remotely for at least three times a month have experienced an increase in revenue of 10% as compared with the previous year. According to a Harvard Business Review article, a study released at the World Economic Forum found that companies with open workflow policies were “10-20 times more likely to outperform” companies that hold more restrictive work policies.
Benefits of an open workflow for employees
Better work/life balance: It’s not easy to balance the demands of work against personal time. It’s even harder for employees who are parents, as children have their own schedules and demand extra time and attention. Employees with inflexible work schedules packed with more tasks than time to complete them end up taking their work home. Not only does this take time away from their family time, it takes away the necessary personal time that every individual needs to maintain a healthy personal and family life.
Take on tasks during optimal moments: As we mentioned earlier, individual productivity waxes and wanes. There are times when your physical and cognitive capacities are at an optimal level, and there are times when you feel slower or experience “brain fog.” Of course, these states are also affected by other factors such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle. But if employees were able to determine their own schedules, assuming that they work toward optimizing both personal and work productivity, they can have the opportunity to tackle work-related tasks during optimal moment. In addition to this, employees will have the flexibility to tend to other tasks that enhance their health and physical/mental capacities.
Suggesting an open workflow
For an open workflow to “work,” employees and management must come into agreement on policy and implementation. Lots of research must be done to examine the details of the implementation. For instance, a company will have to decide how they are going to quantitatively and qualitatively assess the overall effect of an open workflow with regard to productivity and revenue. Managers need to ask employees what kinds of work freedom they want, and both sides will have to negotiate the details on implementation, trial period (for assessment), and policy. Both managers and employees might also have to consider the technological requirements and training necessary to facilitate remote communications and data/content management.
An open workflow policy may be the next big thing in the workplace. It definitely has its benefits, but in order to reap those benefits, lots of preliminary research and infrastructure changes must take place in a careful and well-thought manner.