Managing a Flexible Workforce

“Work is something you do, not someplace you travel to.”
– Anonymous

This concept is common place in today’s world of mobility and flexible work arrangements. Look no further than organizations such as GitLab (a tech firm that provides software services for NASA and IBM) that operates with a 100% remote work model. As an employer, it can be difficult to conceptualize productivity and collaboration in an off-site work arrangement.

Concerns and benefits go both ways. Employees may feel isolated and miss their on-site community. Learning and development may be stalled, or they may find their home office distracting. Some complain of work bleeding into their home life. At the same time, many report improvements in work/life balance and appreciate the reduced time and cost associated with commuting. Visual connection to their work community is made possible through various technologies.

For employers, it can be challenging to follow up on accountability and solve problems. Managers may find active coaching more difficult, especially with performance issues. But the organization can save thousands (even millions) of dollars on commercial real estate, and may benefit from increased employee retention. If a role is 100% remote, it can also expand an employer’s talent pool – there is no longer a need to hire local talent, as long as proximity is delineated in the contract.

What about our firm? We were old-school for a long time. Making the leap into work from home arrangements didn’t come easily. We love the synergy of working side-by-side, and the high fives that come with placing the perfect candidate. However, our attrition rate was higher than it should have been. In exit interviews, a majority of those quitting reinforced their desire for flexibility. We heard that they loved their position, team and the company culture – but they wanted more autonomy over their work location and more work/life balance. Two years ago, we finally took the leap with small trials of 20-40 employees working from home on a scheduled basis. What we found won’t surprise you, but it did surprise us: 65% of our employees working from home produced the same or more in terms of both quantity and quality of work.

We addressed and coached the small number of employees working from home whose productivity fell under 80% of their performance on-site. We expanded our work from home possibilities which have been embraced by most (less than 10% of employees who were offered work from home declined it because they seek the energy of their team, or their home life is too distracting).

And guess what? Our voluntary turnover rate has decreased by 8% which in turn reduces hiring costs, training investments, and customer satisfaction. Moving from a rigid workplace to a flexible one, and moving from a culture of making accommodations versus having trust, has been a hard one – but very worthwhile.

The Battle: Two Opposing Work Environments

As our firm worked on ‘modernizing’ our work environment, we researched varying approaches being used by other organizations. We came across two that were both quite progressive, yet very different. These were: ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) and workplace “communities” (complete with food and services available to employees).


Read up on ROWE to really get the picture, it’s hard core. Get your work done from anywhere, anytime, just get it done.

ROWE rejects the notions of a flexible workplace. Flexible workplaces assume a default location and time. With ROWE, the focus is on measurable results – period. It’s complete self-governance over your work that is solely performance-based.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is the only company in Canada who has fully adopted ROWE (it was originally used by Best Buy but they decided to end the ROWE program). They began their transition in 2014 and since then, employees have been able to work from anywhere. They are never asked how long they worked. No meeting is mandatory, ever. Vacation is not approved. Employees simply need to communicate their vacation plans and coordinate back-up. Team members can work at night or on weekends, whenever they want. The only thing that matters is that the employee is completing their work and being productive.

One employee highlighted that ROWE is great for the experienced worker, but hard on new people who need coaching. She said, “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the  opportunity to listen to a senior team member. I learned the vocabulary needed for my role by observing others.” But as a seasoned employee, she also values being able to work when she feels the most productive, “I drop my daughter off at school, pick up groceries for dinner, and go to the gym. I get home with all my errands done and I can fully focus on work.”

To read more about ROWE, visit:


This was an ironic finding – while Google develops work from home technologies like Google Hangouts, Google Docs, etc., we discovered that the organization itself does not have many workers who actually work from home. In fact, in 2019 the company spent more than $2 billion on 1.2 million square feet of office space in Chelsea (NY). And in San Francisco (CA), Google offers a bus for employees to commute 3 hours to its headquarters.

The reason for this is that Google doesn’t just build offices, their spaces are mini cities offering free food and services, like gyms and massages, for employees. They want to create company culture through collaborative efficiency, not just personal productivity. Collaborative efficiency is the speed with which a group solves a problem. Like minds together often find solutions quicker than an individual.

The issue is that as they buy office space and offer these services to employees, so businesses in the area suffer. Since the largest tenant in the region is offering free food and services, there is no need to go elsewhere. Google is making it easy for employees to spend longer hours within their “community” versus going home for lunch or leaving work early to go to a gym class.

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