Flexibility lets firms focus on products, not processes

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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