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People who work from home are less productive – true or false?

Wouldn’t proving the above statement require being able to objectively measure a person’s productivity? If so, you would have to measure a person’s productivity while working at home and in other settings like an office to make that comparison. Based on the results found, you could make whatever statement that describes those results.  Why is this question even being asked? Over the last 18 months of COVID-19, many people did not have a choice of where they worked. Their offices were closed and if they were going to continue to work for their employer, that work needed to be done from home.

What employees who had to work from home demonstrated was Learning Agility, as defined by Dr. Warner Burke. Dr. Burke states that Learning Agility is finding yourself in a situation where you have never been before; you don’t know what to do and you figure it out. Isn’t that what happened to a lot of workers whose offices were closed (they were in a situation they had never been in before) and if they wanted to continue to work, they had to do that work from home? These workers had to figure it out. How do I work from my home and accomplish the same requirements as performed in the past from my office? To dive a little bit deeper into the Burke Learning Agility® Inventory- one way to measure Learning Agility- is the fact that this assessment measures nine dimensions. One of the dimensions which drives learning agility is Flexibility. Flexibility is defined as being open to new ideas and proposing new solutions. So, our stay-at-home workers had to be willing to try to accomplish their work in a totally different environment, under different conditions than an office setting.

The fact that workers were successful and are still showing Learning Agility is no myth. A myth is defined as a widely held but false belief or idea. Here are a couple of common myths you may have heard. For example, if you touch a toad it will give you warts. Not true. Bulls will attack a flag or a piece of cloth if it is red. Again not true- bulls are in fact color blind to red and green. The red colored flag has no effect on the bull charging. Thousands of years ago, many thought the earth was flat. It was believed that if you reached a certain point on the earth, you would fall off. A thousand years later, Aristotle was able to prove that the world was in fact spherical.

I recently came across a Harvard Business Review article by Morales and Misner entitled, “ 5 Myths About Flexible Work”. Their opening statement is that while Flexibility is great in theory, it just doesn’t work in our organization. The authors claim to have heard that statement hundreds of times. The authors disagree and state that it can work in any industry. They point to the last 12 months as proof that working from home has worked. An unanticipated result of this grand experiment is that 81% of the people involved either don’t ever want to return to an office or they would choose a hybrid (part office/part home) work arrangement.

Companies have had time to develop their case for why working remotely will not work.  The reasons cited against remote work are the following:

  • Loss of control- If I can’t see you, how do I know you are working?
  • Loss of culture- To create and maintain a common set of beliefs and values you need to be physically in one place to establish and maintain it.
  • Loss of collaboration- Lack of propinquity hinders working together.
  • Loss of contribution- People won’t do what they say they will if you are not standing over them.
  • Loss of connection- Working independently means energy will not be put into making and maintaining relationships. The authors did cite the challenges posed by mixing methodologies (in person and virtually). It clearly is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to utilize learning agility capabilities. Two dimensions that could contribute to this concern are Performance Risk-Taking and Interpersonal Risk-Taking.

In this last section I would like to review the myths or concerns about flexible work and  describe how they really represent an opportunity to develop aspects or dimensions of learning agility.

Morales and Misner’s five concerns restated with Burke Learning Agility opportunities:

  • Loss of control- The fact that you can’t see someone does not mean that they are not working. My trust level of people is higher than that, but I am not naïve and I do need to verify and monitor results. The opposite of control is autonomy, and this provides the employee an opportunity to demonstrate and develop the Burke Learning Agility dimensions of Flexibility, Experimenting, Performance Risk-Taking and Speed.
  • Loss of culture- The development of common beliefs and values does not need to be done in person. There are all kinds of online collaboration tools that would accomplish this task virtually. In addition to the Burke Learning Agility dimension of Collaborating, there is also an opportunity to demonstrate Experimenting, Performance, and Interpersonal Risk-Taking.
  • Loss of collaboration- Collaborating does not have to equal being in the same room (physically). It could mean you are in the same space virtually. There is an opportunity to demonstrate the Burke Learning Agility dimensions of Collaborating, Feedback Seeking, and Reflecting.
  • Loss of contribution- The premise here is that people can’t be trusted, and you need to stand over them. Assuming you have some means to monitor what people are doing, this should not be an issue. Burke Learning Agility dimensions that could be demonstrated are Feedback Seeking, and Information Gathering.
  • Loss of connection- No question this is a challenge in a virtual or hybrid situation. Burke Learning Agility dimensions that could be developed or demonstrated are Collaborating, Performance, and Interpersonal Risk-Taking.

My sincere hope is that we as a society, will value and build on the learnings of working virtually and not jettison those learnings and return to a command, control, and in person only approach to work.

About the Author

David Hoff is the COO and EVP of Leadership Development for E.A.S.I-Consult®E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring advisement. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.