Strategic Work+Life Flex

If New Jersey Transit Strikes, Will You Be Open for Business?

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Trains

According to the most recent news reports, there is a very good chance that New Jersey Transit will strike as early as this weekend.  This means that as many as 65,000 New Jersey residents who work in Manhattan will have to find alternative, time-consuming ways to get into the office.

If you are an employer, you have two choices:

  1. Do you demand that all New Jersey-based employees do whatever it takes–no matter how long, or how stressful–to get into Manhattan? OR
  2. Do you strategically encourage telework and allow employees to use the time and energy they’d waste commuting to do their jobs productively?

You have three days to answer that question.  You have three days to coordinate a telework strategy that would allow your people to hit the ground running on Monday without missing a beat.

What would that look like in action?

A few years ago, I worked with a major pharmaceutical company widely recognized for their flexible work culture.

One day, as I facilitated a series of sessions for employees and managers, snow began to fall.  On that particular day, I was scheduled to facilitate one session in the morning and another after lunch.  Midway through the afternoon meeting, a few inches of snow had accumulated and you could tell people were anxious to get on the road.  Then the most amazing thing happened…

A number of managers in the room stood up and asked their team members to meet them in a group.  As the various teams gathered, you could hear everyone sharing how they planned to work the next day.  Some would work remotely, others thought they’d wait until after rush hour and come in later, and a couple planned to take personal days if they couldn’t find child care for their very young children.

As the teams reached agreement and dispersed, the managers gathered together and opened their laptops in a circle and began to coordinate with each other.  How would they conduct meetings that were scheduled?  Some decided to cancel meetings while others converted theirs to webinars.  One manager who oversaw a manufacturing facility sent emails to the plant foreman flexibly coordinating the staffing for the next day.

I watched in awe.  Finally, the manufacturing manager saw my faced and asked me, ‘’Why are you smiling and shaking your head?”  At this point, all of the managers in the room looked up.  I responded, “Do you realize how much money you are saving by flexibly coordinating tomorrow’s work in anticipation of the snow?”  You could tell they were a bit confused.

They didn’t see what they were doing as unusual.  It’s how they got the job done.  So I pointed out, “See your competitor down the street?  Do they use flexibility as easily and strategically as you do to maintain operating continuity even if it snows?”  Another manager said, “No they don’t.”  I continued, “Okay, so who’s open for business tomorrow and who isn’t?”  Now they were smiling and shaking their heads, “We are.”

This group of managers didn’t think twice about supporting flexible ways of working, but it was the first time they consciously realized how they were using it to meet a business need–staying open when nature strikes!

What about your organization?  Will you be open for business at full, productive capacity should New Jersey Transit strike, or will your people waste precious time and energy sitting in cars and buses for three hours each way trying to make it into the office and then get home?

Are you having coordinated conversations today about how everyone plans to work most efficiently on Monday–whether that’s remotely or in Manhattan?  Or will you just take your chances?

I invite you to sign up for our monthly newsletter and to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.

When Play in the Workplace is Serious Business

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Are there moments of fun and play in your work day?

Earlier this month, I contributed to a TODAY Show segment that explored how some companies are making periods of play and fun part of their culture.

When executed with intention, play can be important. It’s not goofing off — it’s serious business meant to encourage innovation, team collaboration and employee engagement.

For example, a bank in Nashville gave employees an optional break from their normal routine for one afternoon. They hosted a corn hole tournament that gave people time to re-energize, forge new connections and build camaraderie outside the context of their regular day-to-day routine. Twenty teams of four from across the organization competed and the afternoon was wildly successful.

Even if moments of fun aren’t officially incorporated into a workplace culture, each person can identify the type of “play” that re-energizes and helps them be their best, on and off the job.

For example, I talked to a trauma nurse who intentionally tries to interject what she called “moments of joy” into an otherwise high-pressured workplace.  Whether it’s a quick joke or a funny/happy story she’s heard, she finds a moment to share it.  Realizing how these “moments of joy” helped to manage the high stress of their day-to-day work, some of her co-workers have now joined in.

At the end of the TODAY Show segment, Matt Lauer says, “I would think that this type of play would make me less focused. I would be thinking about who pegged me at dodgeball all afternoon.” His reaction is a reminder to organizations: one size doesn’t fit all.  There are different definitions of fun and play.  Some people will prefer organized, competitive options, but others might like an impromptu “dishes from around the world” tasting lunch where everyone brings a favorite food from another country to try.

Successful implementation requires a culture and guiding framework that supports (but doesn’t mandate) the creativity to identify what moments of fun and play can benefit both the business and its people.

I’d love to hear from you. What kind of play has encouraged innovation in your workplace? How do you make time for these moments at work? Share your ideas in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

“Want to Work Less?” All Hands Go Up. “But, You’ll Make Less Money” Most Hands Go Down

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Suddenly, it seems everywhere you look another billionaire is promoting a reduced workweek.  I recently appeared on WSJ Live to share my thoughts on the trend (scroll down to view the clip–I make my main points at 3:35).

While I believe their motivations are valid, these moguls need to understand that it will not be easy to make their vision a reality.  Some major hurdles stand in their way.

First, who is saying what?

Latin American telecom tycoon, Carlos Slim, is extolling the virtues of the three-day workweek, while the founders of Google are discussing the benefits of splitting one full-time job into many part-time jobs.

Why?  They have identified real challenges that could, in theory, be addressed through the collective reduction in the amount of time we work each week.

For Slim, the challenge is how to help people stay healthy so they can extend the number of years they are able to remain in the paid workforce.

For the founders of Google, the challenge is how to address the potential mass-displacement of workers by technology (e.g driverless cars, etc.), a not-so-distant reality recently described in an oped by respected Silicon Valley insider, Vivek Wadhwa.

Sounds good…but not that simple

Translating what may sound good on paper into action is not going to be easy for the following reasons:

People can’t afford to make less money.  If you ask a room full of people if they’d like to work fewer hours a week, almost every hand will go up.  However, if you add, “…but you will make less money” most hands will go down.

Bottom line: most people can’t afford to work less.  Therefore, any discussion of a reduced workweek must address financial reality, especially since individuals are being asked to shoulder more of the expense and risk of retirement and health care.

Workplace legislation and management infrastructure are based on a 35-to-40 hour workweek.  Any change in the standard workweek would require major legislative, HR policy and accounting regulation updates and overhauls.

For example, today overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act is calculated based on a 40 hour workweek. Would that change or stay the same?

In most organizations, compensation and benefits, such as health care, retirement contributions, and vacation are calculated based on a 35 or 40-hour full-time workweek.

In terms of accounting, internal head count cost allocations in most organizations are also based upon a full-time, 40-hour workweek.  That means if an employee works part-time the system still charges the business unit overhead for a full-time worker. It’s not prorated. If you hire another part-time worker, that’s another full head count.

How do you deploy more people working fewer days/hours and remain responsive and competitive in a global economy?  This won’t be as big an issue for less human capital intensive, or highly localized industries, but for service industries with customers in many time zones, a reduced workweek will require more complex coordination and communication across people, teams and shifts.  Managers will have to break their addiction to management by face-time.

Carlos Slim and the founders of Google have identified very real challenges.  They should be applauded for starting an important conversation.  But any wholesale reduction or reconfiguration of the workweek will require new approaches to compensation, updated employment legislation, and revised team management processes, benefits calculations and internal cost accounting rules to succeed.  That will be a heavy lift.

What do you think about the growing interest in reducing the workweek on a broader scale?  Does it have merit?  Could it really work?

FREE Webinar 5/21 at 2 pm EST–Intentional Flexibility: 5 Steps to Move Beyond Ambivalence

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“Ambivalence” is defined as the coexistence of positive and negative feelings toward the same object or action simultaneously drawing you in opposite directions.

According to our new research, full-time U.S. workers see ambivalence when asked about employer commitment to work life flexibility  — 46% say their employer’s commitment is strong, while the other 45% aren’t so sure the commitment is there.

On the surface, this uncertainty seems to contradict reality when you consider that 97% of full-time employees said they had some form of work life flexibility in 2013 (with 23% reporting an increase from the prior year), and almost one-third of respondents indicated they did most of their work from a remote location other than their employer’s site.

But the ambivalence is happening, and it keeps organizations and individuals from realizing the full benefit of a more strategic, intentional approach to flexibility in how, when and where work is done.

Join me LIVE on Wednesday, May 21st at 2:00 pm EST for a 45-minute webinar where I will discuss:

  • Highlights of our new research, “Employees Sense Weakened Commitment to Work Life Flexibility.
  • Why employers may be ambivalent toward work life flexibility, even though most of their employees report having at least some form of it, and
  • The five steps employers and individuals can take to move beyond unproductive ambivalence and confidently embrace the benefits of strategic, intentional flexibility.

Click HERE to register.  See you on the 21st and bring your questions!

Check out the infographic of research highlights we will discuss:

 

 

Employees Sense Weakened Commitment to Work Life Flexibility (INFOGRAPHIC)

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The infographic, below, summaries key findings from our most recent national research report,“Ambivalence is Not a Strategy: Employees Sense Waning Commitment to Flexibility.”

Findings are based on a national probability telephone survey of 556 full-time employed adults conducted by ORC International during December, 2013.  The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

Work life flexibility is defined as “having flexibility in when, where and how you work.  It allows you to flexibly allocate time and energy between your work life and personal life.”

Click HERE for link to infographic PDF:

NEW Research Finds Employees Sense Weakened Commitment to Work Life Flexibility / Lack of Training Contributes to Eroding Confidence

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Things have been a little bit quiet on the blog for the last couple of months due to the overwhelming response to the first report we released from our study of full-time U.S. workers conducted with ORC International.

Today, we release the second report from the study.  We hope it generates an equally robust debate.   Be sure to scroll down and sign up for next week’s webinar “Intentional Flexibility,” because ambivalence is not a strategy!

 

 

New Research Finds Employees Sense Weakened Commitment to Work Life Flexibility 

Lack of Training Contributes to Eroding Confidence

More than 4 in 10 full-time employees surveyed reported their employer’s commitment to work life flexibility may have waned in the past year, despite the overwhelming availability of workplace flexibility, according to a new research report from the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. (FSG/WLF).

The findings are based upon a national probability telephone survey of 556 full-time employed adults conducted by ORC International with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. The FSG/WLF research, part of a biennial study first conducted in 2006, also found:

  • Almost all full-time employees (97%) reported having some form of work life flexibility in 2013.
  • But, a majority (57%) of employees did not receive training or guidance on how to manage work life flexibility.
  • A majority of employees (62%) continue to cite obstacles to work life flexibility with the number of employees noting their workloads increased/they had no time rising from 29% in 2011 to 37% in 2013. Women (44%) citied this as an obstacle significantly more than men (33%).
  • A higher percentage of respondents (85% in 2013 compared to 66% in 2011) believe employee loyalty, health and performance suffer in workplaces without work life flexibility.

“It’s not just Yahoo, Best Buy and Bank of America that have sent mixed signals on flexibility in the past year or so,” said Flex+Strategy Group CEO Cali Williams Yost, a flexible workplace strategist and author. “Despite the fact that almost all full-time employees had some type of work life flexibility in the last year employees see and sense employer ambivalence toward work life flexibility.

“Ambivalence, however, is not a strategy,” Yost warned. “Organizations need to be intentional and deliberate about what type of flexibility works for their business.”

The latest FSG/WLF research found respondents were equally split between the 46% who described their employer’s commitment to work life flexibility as strong and the 45% who described it as uncertain. Among those who described the commitment as possibly weakening, 20% said it was evident their company reduced flexibility, 5% said they heard rumors or noticed signs of a decreased commitment and 20% said their employers are committed for now, but that could change. Further, 8% responded they didn’t know.

One reason for this eroding employee confidence is that nearly 60% of respondents said they did not receive any guidance or training to help manage their work life flexibility compared to only 40% who did receive such guidance/training. Those who did not were more likely to say it was evident their employer reduced work life flexibility while conversely those who did receive guidance/training were more likely to say their employer had a strong commitment.

We can’t expect employees to effectively manage and leverage work life flexibility when most receive no guidance or training. It’s not enough to just offer the option or provide a laptop,” explains Yost. “A strategy to maximize workplace flexibility should be as important to a business as a strategy to develop new products or identify new markets.”

More than ever, the need for such guidance is critical as a higher number of respondents in 2013 – more than 8 in 10 – cited negative impacts of workplaces without work life flexibility. A majority agreed employee loyalty (68%), health (64%) and performance (64%) suffer.

The way we live and work is changing and how well we each manage that change can affect health, wellbeing and business performance. Work life flexibility, or fit, is not only key to employee health and wellness, but also an important factor in sustainable business success,” Yost explains. “With a better understanding of this new reality, employers can empower their people to take personal accountability and action and develop informed strategies that suit the unique needs of their business and their workforce.”

Yost advises organizations to analyze how, when and where employees are working and then develop a strategic approach to work life flexibility tailored to those findings. This includes providing guidance and training that helps employees do their best both on and off the job while helping the business improve productivity, reduce costs and increase employee morale and engagement.

Yost will discuss her latest research in more detail and describe the critical elements of Intentional Flexibility in a 45-minute webinar Wednesday, May 21 at 2 p.m. EST. Register HERE.

Links to the summary report of findings and the infographic are below and can be found, along with previous FSG/WLF research, at www.worklifefit.com/research:

 

NEW RESEARCH: Reveals Major Telework Myths and Growing Open Office Struggle

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As we approach Telework Week 2014 (March 3-7), new national research from the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc. shatters common myths about who is working where and reveals new realities along with new struggles about how full-time employees get their work done.

Key findings from the research, which looks both at telework and the growing open office trend, are outlined in the press release below.

More Women Put in Hours at the Office and in Cubes While More Men Telework

Men outpace women by a wide margin when it comes to telework – doing work from home, business center or another location – while women are more likely putting their hours in at their employer’s office according to new research that dispels long-standing telework myths and explores the increasing struggles of the open office trend.

The Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. (FSG/WLF) found that among a national probability survey of 556 full-time employed adults nearly one-third (31%) do most of their work away from their employer’s location, and nearly three out of four of those remote workers are men.

“Failure to understand how and where work gets done and by whom, and failure to support these operational strategies with the attention and resources warranted – including training and guidance — can compromise the optimal performance and wellbeing of both organizations and employees,” explains flexible workplace strategist and author Cali Williams Yost, CEO, Flex+Strategy Group.

Telework Stereotypes Don’t Match Reality

FSG/WLF’s research dispelled several telework stereotypes. The typical full-time remote worker is:

  • NOT a woman: Among those that telework, 71 percent were men.
  • NOT a parent: There is no significant difference between remote workers with or without kids.
  • NOT a millennial: There is no significant difference in the age groups of remote workers.

“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,” Yost explains. “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.”

Open Office Spaces Take Toll on Work Life Flexibility

Back at the employer site, respondents reported doing most of their work either in a private office (30%) or a cube or open office space (33%) with women (43%) significantly more likely than men (27%) to work in cubes/open spaces. Overall, cube/open office workers struggle the most.

  • They were the largest group reporting less work life flexibility now than at this time last year (42%) when compared to their remote and private office colleagues, and of those who feel they have the least control over their work life flexibility, cube/open office workers were the largest percentage.
  • They were significantly more likely to say they didn’t use or improve their work life flexibility because “it might hurt your career/others think you don’t work as hard” when compared to remote workers. Yost believes worries about a “mommy track” stigma may be one reason why fewer women work remotely.
  • They received the least amount of training to help them manage their work life flexibility. Remote workers (47%) were significantly more likely to receive such guidance compared to those in cubes/open spaces (35%).

“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 says. “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.”

More about the survey:

FSG/WLF’s latest biennial research was made possible with support from Quest Diagnostics, the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, a premier provider of lab-based employer wellness services, and an award-winning healthy employer of more than 40,000 people.

Findings and analysis are solely FSG/WLF’s and are based upon a survey conducted by ORC International with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

LIVE WEBINAR: Cali Yost and experts from Quest Diagnostics and Citrix will discuss these findings in a 30-minute webinar Thursday, February 27th at 2 p.m. EST. Register HERE.

Media Contact: Pam Kassner, pam@superpear.com, 414-510-1838

Students Challenge Singapore to “TWEAK IT” with Contest and Clever Video

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Here’s an experience to file under “You never know the impact of your words.”

This week I’ve shared highlights from my recent trip to Singapore (here and here), but nothing prepared me for this fun surprise!

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a group of students in Singapore who attend Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information at Nanyang Technological University.

They were inspired by my “Tweak It” message , and wanted to encourage people to capture the power of small, deliberate actions to find a better “fit” between their work and the other parts of life.

They asked if they could launch a “Tweak It” Singapore awareness campaign.  I said, “Go for it!”

Check out the smart, clever short animated video they created “5 Things Work Life Balance is NOT.” I love it!

Go TWEAK IT (sg)!

Three Companies Can Resolve Challenges with Flexibility, But People and Business Have to Partner

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One of the highlights of 2013 was my visit to Singapore to keynote their national work life conference.

Here I am pictured with some of my hosts from the Singapore Employer Alliance, a group that brings employers and government together to address a range of work life issues.

 

 

My main message to the conference?  For flexible work to succeed, employers and employees have to meet in the middle.  In most cases, this partnership doesn’t exist, but it can be created by following these steps.

What do these employers have in common?

  • The division of a global biotech company projects 25% growth over the next three years. The number of products they offer will increase from seven to twenty-five, which will require a radical realignment of job descriptions and global markets. To sustain engagement during this period of rapid change, the company encourages employees to use day-to-day flexibility in how, when and where work is done to be their best, on and off the job.
  • An insurance company transitioned to an open office space configuration. The move would result in a significant reduction in real estate overhead; however, leaders and employees resisted the change. They questioned whether they could concentrate on the complex documents and projects that make up a large part of their work without cubicles and offices. When it became clear the project would move forward in spite of these concerns, the head of HR decided to encourage employees to use telework, as needed, to maintain focus and productivity.
  • A home improvement retailer wants to expand its operations, but faces a significant talent shortage. To find and keep the qualified people they need to grow, they create flexible work options that are more attractive to non-traditional staffing sources, such as students, stay-at-home parents and older workers. They redesigned the traditional part-time retail job to include more recognition and rewards. They also revised the standard full-time retail employment model reducing the typical workweek from six days to five days.

These organizations used strategic work and life flexibility to address unique business challenges—rapid growth, a shift in workspace design, and a talent shortage. But, in all three cases, the key to successful execution was an active partnership between the business and its employees. The business could offer flexibility in the way work could be done, but their people had to:

  • Use that day-to-day flexibility to stay engaged and be their best, on and off the job.
  • Use that targeted, strategic telework to focus and remain productive.
  • Use that enhanced part-time and a revised full-time schedule to reenter and remain in the retail workforce.

There are three key factors that build an employer-employee partnership for flexible work success:

First, create a shared vision of what flexibility will look like once it is implemented. How is the work getting done better and how is life outside of work being managed smarter? What are leaders, managers and employees doing? How are they behaving? Cascade that vision as widely and deeply as possible through the organization touching all key stakeholders. This visioning process is one of the most powerful ways to create buy-in and understanding, especially among middle managers.

Second, train managers in the basics of good management. Then, add a layer of targeted flexible workplace strategies. When everyone had to show up to work at the same place at the same time everyday, organizations could get away with not training managers in the fundamentals of good management. It wasn’t as critical to know how to give consistent feedback, to task work fairly, to set clear goals and objectives, to provide adequate resources, and to use technology. “Presence equals performance” was the default.

For the employer-employee flexible work partnership to succeed, these basic management skills are a requirement. Once they are mastered and contextualized for their application in a flexible workplace, then a manager can add on the tactics that enhance the performance of a flexible team, such as schedule coordination and remote worker recognition. But the basics have to be there first.

And last, but not least, train your people to capture the flexibility offered and use it to manage their work+life fit, everyday and at major life transitions. Knowing how to flexibly manage your work+life fit, deliberately and intentionally, is a modern skill set we all need to be our best, on and off the job. But very few of us know how because we are not taught. To learn more about the complete work+life fit skill set, please refer to my recently—released book, Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, and my first book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You. Also, you can find information about the everyday work+life fit “how to” at www.tweakittogether.com.

Work and life flexibility can be a powerful strategy to address many of today’s organizational challenges. But successful execution requires skilled managers to partner with their people in ways they didn’t have to when “work” was clearly defined and separate from life.

I invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment and connecting with me on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.

Open Office Spaces and Telework: Marriage Made in Heaven, That No One Talks About

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There’s a growing awareness that if an organization wants to realize the full potential of its open office space, then there are some real challenges that have to addressed related to uninterrupted focus, and quiet.  

Yes, when you substitute long tables and plug-and-play spaces for office walls and dedicated cubicles, you can fit more people into the same area which saves money.  And, when individuals encounter each other more easily throughout the day, it can encourage collaboration and creativity that might not happen otherwise.

But what do you do when you need uninterrupted time to focus deeply on a project?  Where do you go to have a private conversation with a colleague or a client?

Currently, the answer is to offer a certain number of quiet rooms that can be reserved in advance for a specific period of time or to provide areas/alcoves that provide some freedom from disturbances.

Unfortunately, what we’re hearing from employees and leaders is that these dedicated private spaces oftentimes don’t match the need. Here are some common experiences:

  • A person will reserve a room for an hour to give their undivided attention to a project, but finds that sixty minutes isn’t enough time. However someone else needs the room. They have to pick up in the middle of their work and lose momentum.
  • An individual spins his wheels struggling to complete a report by the end of the day because colleagues decide to hold an impromptu meeting in the space next to where he is working. He tries to find an alcove that’s quieter but all are taken.

People have found ways to adapt and work around the challenges. They are using headphones even though the music can be a distraction, albeit a lesser one. Others extend their workday to complete the tasks that require the most concentration. They wake up earlier and work from home before they leave or in the evening when they return.

But there’s alternative solution that doesn’t get enough attention. What if organizations promote the periodic use of telework as a alternative option when undistracted attention and quiet are needed to get the job done, well and efficiently? It’s a win-win for both the organization and its people.  The cost-saving/innovation benefits of the open office space are coupled with the productivity boost from periodic, strategic and targeted telework. If done correctly, it can be a marriage made in heaven.

Instead of losing focus and productivity:

  • A person who needs to give undivided attention to a complex project can telework that day from a location that allows her to think deeply.
  • An individual who finds the impromptu meeting of his colleagues too distracting, can leave and find a location more conducive to concentration.

After her group transitioned to an open office space plan, the General Counsel of a global pharmaceutical company quickly realized the power of telework to address the concentration struggles of her team.

She encouraged her staff attorneys to pick the place where they did their best thinking when they needed to prepare for a case and get through a complicated document.

Some attorneys chose to work in the office, some at home and others from a coffee shop where no one knew them. One attorney even chose to work from a library close to the office.

The trick is that the General Counsel couldn’t determine where each person who reports to her would be the most productive on a given day.  For the open office space/telework marriage to thrive, each individual employee has to be taught, as part of their everyday work+life fit management practice, to think through “where” they will do their job most effectively.

The open office space trend will continue as organizations look for ways to cut overhead and save money. However CFOs and facilities management should partner upfront with Human Resources, the IT group, managers and employees and explore how telework can make the transition successful for the business and its people.

For more on the topic, check out Katherine Lewis’ recent article on Fortune.com  “The slow death of the private office.”

What do you think?  Are open office spaces and telework destined to be together?