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The productivity payoff of a flexible workplace

Want to increase your revenue by 10 percent? Give your employees flexibility. A new Harvard Business Review article says that's the key to success. For instance, companies that allow employees to work from home at least three time per month are more likely to report growth than companies that have more restrictive policies.

Is flexibility practical? A lot of companies can't imagine functioning without strict rules and constant oversight. But these findings say the opposite is true. When you give flexibility, you get better results. For example, Cisco says it saves $277 million per year, thanks to its telecommuting policies.

But adding flexibility can be a difficult task if your company isn't used to it. Here are some tips for making the changes.

1. Set clear employee goals. This may seem counterintuitive to the "flexible" mantra, but if your employees know what they're supposed to do, they don't need constant oversight. Plus, the clear goals allow a manager to evaluate employees' effectiveness even if they aren't sitting in front of you every day.

2. Make teams flexible. If people can go from project to project without having to send a specific request through the system and get approval from three different layers of people, you can gain advantages over your competitors. But if you have to wait for a VP to get back from a business trip to sign off on a change, you may lose any edge an employee's unique skill set might give you.

3. Acknowledge different lifestyles. Some people are night owls, some are larks, some are high energy all the time and some are always low energy. While a low-energy-all-the-time person may not be your best employee, there's no reason why you should praise the lark and punish the night owl. Go back to your clear employee goals and see if your night owl is meeting those goals. If so, take a deep breath and stop worrying about the time stamp on that email.

4. Embrace technology. Sure, you're used to getting up and walking to the next cube to ask a question, but today we have countless ways to communicate with far-flung co-workers. Get your company to agree on a system and then use it. Younger employees are used to communicating electronically, and your older employees may surprise you. Regardless, don't keep your office running on 1980s' or even 2000s' technology. Don't know which apps to use? Ask your employees. They are already using some of the best things out there.

5. Revamp your management. If your managers focus on face time, working toward flexibility will be difficult. Not everyone is meant to stay the boss. You may need to move people around and find mixes that work better. Some people like nothing better than to work 9:00-5:00 in the office. Take advantage of that group also. They can be make great contributions as well. Remember, the goal is to look for what makes each employee happiest and, therefore, more productive.

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