Flexibility lets firms focus on products, not processes

October 24, 2011
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Jon Arnold is a big believer in flexibility at work. As I reported in IBJ this week, Arnold is running Indianapolis tech firm Tuitive as he and his family travel the country in a recreational vehicle.

He has two full-time employees (who also work remotely), a roster of contractors and a steady customer base. He conducts conference calls in the woods and sets up his laptop on campground picnic tables. And still he meets deadlines and keeps clients happy.

Technology makes such things possible, if still relatively uncommon. But more business leaders are starting to realize that face time isn’t necessarily productive time. As local consultant Robby Slaughter told me, “Work is what happens when no one is watching.”

Some jobs need to be done in person, to be sure. And some employees need the occasional hairy eyeball—or the threat of it—to stay on task. But Slaughter said giving workers freedom also can pay off with increased productivity and better morale. Accountability and trust can go a long way.

“It’s really about empowerment,” he said, “giving workers the freedom and opportunity to take risks.”

Tuitive’s flexibility led the company to carve out one day each week when employees can concentrate on internal projects, instead of client work. The result was a pair of software startups that eventually could boost the bottom line.

What’s your take on the topic? Can small-business owners afford to loosen their control of employees’ schedules? Can they afford not to?

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  • great topic
    I think this is a great idea. I am surprised no one has commented. I would love it personally. If I were the employer it would be difficult to gauge. it ofcourse would depend on the type of business. Someone has to answer the phone and greet customers.
    Also would this not make the employees sub contractors -1099 employees.
    I am all for it for myself, and i would do it for the employees especially if i wouldnt have to pay all the work comp and benifits - well being they are subcontractors.
  • Freedom is the Foundation of Success
    Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, says that one of his major objectives is to "increase employee freedom as the company grows."

    Giving employees more authority reminds me of the old adage about giving employees access to training: you can train them and risk they leave, or refuse to train them and risk they stay. At worst case, a worker who abuses your trust self-identifies themselves as someone you should let go. At best, that trust becomes unbridled innovation and opportunity.
  • Remote Work and Outsourcing
    If you calculated how much time you or your colleagues spent on non-urgent, unimportant tasks, or how much stress it cost to deal with less than mission critical issues, you would probably pack it in and “head for the hills” the very next day.

    That’s why working remotely and outsourcing makes so much sense—we get to do what we do best (and love to do the most), and outsource the rest. The truest definition of personal productivity is doing less meaningless work, so you can focus on things of greater personal importance.

    Small business owners especially need to consider outsourcing since they usually wear multiple "hats" and aren't necessarily great at all of them...though they think they are! With the right mindset and skillset, managers can be surprised by how much more productive their employees can be.

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