While many workers love to work from home, not all can muster the discipline and self-control required to work out of the office. Merit-based flexibility grants more freedom to choose hours and work locations to those employees who consistently meet or exceed employers’ expectations.
Remote work is effective in some companies for some types of jobs. Less than 40% of all jobs can effectively be performed remotely – just those employees whose job relies on the computer and does not need daily face-to-face contact with coworkers and customers qualify. Should all employees whose jobs meet these criteria be allowed to work remotely on either a permanent or hybrid basis?
A merit-based flexibility approach suggests that companies should offer high performers more options. Workers who prove themselves responsible and productive in the office should be permitted more choice. Those who have not earned the trust of management to be on their own should have more limited access to remote options, with the understanding that if they meet specific goals, they may be granted the ability to work a hybrid schedule.
Some Employees Are Poor Candidates For Remote Work
The ability of workers to have a say in where and how they work leads to increased job satisfaction, but some people need help staying focused and completing tasks without structure. Unmotivated workers can waste time and fail to perform anywhere, but when the boss is on-site, and others are working nearby, employees feel the pressure to work. When working at home, browsing the Internet, watching TV, taking naps, and doing other non-work-related things is all too easy.
Many employees can learn how to be trustworthy remote workers. It is up to the company to develop measures for what constitutes productivity and then make sure that all qualified employees have the chance to prove themselves.
What Merit-Based Flexibility Offers Workers
The way some companies have handled allowing remote work is to reward employees who have shown themselves to be responsible, self-directed, and engaged in the job with more remote work time.
Adopting merit-based flexibility as a determinant of who qualifies for remote work is an extension of how employers grant raises and promotions to certain workers and not others. Remote work involves empowering groups of workers who must earn trust. Companies should know what success looks like and establish an infrastructure that allows employees to achieve it and earn the requisite trust.
This merit-based flexibility allows this group of workers to enjoy the benefits they have earned:
- Flexibility in scheduling. Employees who meet deadlines, complete assigned tasks, are available for occasional meetings, and stay in touch with supervisors can choose their working hours. They may start earlier or later, take longer breaks, and work some longer days to compensate for other shorter days.
- Ability to choose work location. Some employees may choose to work at home, from a coffee shop or coworking space, while traveling, or even while living as a digital nomad.
- Hybrid option. Choosing to work some days in the office and some at home offers the best mix for many employees and their companies.
- Autonomy over tasks. Employees who are high achievers and skilled in their jobs have the green light to work on their own, make decisions, and function without ongoing supervision.
Why Offer Remote Work Options?
The benefits of allowing more flexibility for remote work are many for both the worker and the company:
- Improved productivity. While some recent data questioned the productivity of remote workers, most studies reiterate that productivity is higher for those working away from the office versus those based in the office.
- Increased employee engagement and satisfaction. At a time when many companies are faced with disengagement among employees, having a core of dedicated workers who put their all into their jobs is a plus.
- Improved work-life balance: For most employees, improved work-life balance means they can adjust their work hours to manage personal responsibilities or prevent burnout.
- Reduced costs. When workers are in the office, they use resources. Companies realize cost savings, even without reducing space, which many companies are able to do as a result of remote work.
- Expanded hiring options. Even companies without the resources to interview and move in talent from across the country or across the world can capture and retain high-performing employees who work remotely.
What Companies Need To Make Merit-Based Flexibility Work
Here are several criteria that comprise the infrastructure:
- Clear and transparent guidelines should support decisions to allow one worker flexibility and not another.
- Effective performance management system that fairly measures and rewards productivity for performance.
- Effective communication channels so that all employees know their managers’ expectations and the company’s policies about expected productivity.
- Strong technology infrastructure that encourages and facilitates the communication and collaboration necessary for effective remote work.
- Production management through ongoing feedback, check-ins, and performance reviews to ensure employees are on track, satisfied, and engaged.
Are There Risks To Merit-Based Flexibility?
The potential risks of remote work are well documented.
- Employers may not trust their workers to produce; sometimes, their fears are justified, particularly for some employees who abuse remote work freedoms.
- Managing a remote team can be challenging, especially when managers have little experience with remote teams. If it can be hard to evaluate those on location, properly doing so with physically distant workers is even more difficult.
- Team collaboration and communication can suffer in the absence of good management and proper technology.
- Workers may feel isolated and lack the mentorship and social interaction they need.
Merit-based flexibility has some additional risks. The approach magnifies the inadequacy of many productivity measures. Just showing up, measuring keystrokes, or turning in X pieces of work without regard for quality defeats the purpose.
There can also be bias in applying standards to employees. Some people can be overlooked or unfairly judged if performance evaluations are subjective or not offered regularly. The same goes for people in certain departments or certain roles.
Higher-paid, higher-skilled workers are often given preferential treatment regarding remote workers. This causes worker dissent. It also brings many workers to the office only to have virtual meetings with this group of remote workers. Younger, less experienced workers who hope to find role models and mentors in the office may find those who could help them are working from home.
What is crucial in applying merit-based flexibility is that measures of productivity should capture what is important for business growth while all employees who qualify for remote work are given a chance to earn it.