Presenteeism doesn’t aid productivity, so employers should set workers free

At this time of year, the days are short, the morning commute can be hellish and traffic grid-locked. Wouldn’t it be ideal if more employers recognised this and offered a solution involving flexible hours, remote collaboration or even home-working? And not just at Christmas, but the whole year round? More and more companies are switching on to the benefits this can bring in terms of their employees’ well-being and productivity. Firms can allow colleagues to occasionally work from home or a third place, provide tools that enable them to work remotely and support an agile working agenda. This can be done in parallel with making provision for a hi-tech and collaborative workplace where colleagues can get together regularly to connect, get work done and be part of an effective team.

Agile or activity-based working is the ability to work at any place, at any time and can be extremely empowering. Employers and facilities managers have a big role to play in enabling this – through good IT connectivity and by creating a culture in which it’s seen as acceptable, even encouraged, for staff to work from a tertiary location such as their own home.

Employers should also consider if it is sensible to pressure workers to struggle into the office even on days when they are unwell, or if they face childcare issues or transport disruption. ‘Presenteeism’ is an issue in the British workplace, but studies show it doesn’t boost productivity. It’s best to enable your workforce to be productive anywhere.

Employers also need to ask, are we making the most of technology to improve collaboration, employee training and development? A technology strategy has the potential to deliver numerous benefits, ranging from increased productivity to improved staff recruitment and retention. Employers should move beyond traditional office infrastructures, based on the assumption that most people work primarily at a single, fixed location, such as a dedicated workstation.

Most organisations have a variety of work styles, with varying mobility levels and tech preferences. Executives may spend time collaborating away from the office, using tablets or smart phones, while technical staff may spend a lot of time at their desks making use of high-spec PCs. A one-size-fits-all approach for space and technology provision may not be appropriate, especially in a large enterprise.

In instances where employees need to be mobile in order to do their job, what additional provisions are employers putting in place to facilitate staff collaboration, resolve conflicts or provide training and development? Are employers making the most out of tools such as video conferencing and on-demand services? Can staff access essential online tools such as the company intranet, CRM platforms or social media in order to feel properly connected if working from home or remotely?

Finally, it’s important to make sure employees who do work away from the office don’t feel they have to be ‘always on’. Working from home saves time in terms of cutting out the commute, but it also shouldn’t mean people are chained to their ‘desk’ long after office-based colleagues have gone home; the whole point of remote working is to ‘free’ employees to be productive wherever they are, be it in the workplace, a coffee shop or a collaborative space such as a lab or lecture theatre, or at home.

Creating collaborative spaces where colleagues or counterparts in other organisations can come together is also a big part of how modern organisations should be thinking about how they allow their workforce to hit peak productivity. For many people, being shackled to a desk can hinder rather than enhance productivity. Isn’t it about time employers set them free?

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Sam Sahni is Head of Workplace Consultancy at Morgan Lovell

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