Working virtually and flexibly are facts of life for many of us.For some it’s a blessing, for some a curse and for many it just is what it is–the way the world is going.

For those of us who manage people virtually there are two questions:

Q. Can working remotely make us happier?
Q. Do the financial controllers and policy makers care about our happiness so long as the work gets done?

Recent research shows it might not be an either/or question

Working virtually can increase employee happiness and satisfaction (if it’s done right) AND there’s a way to quantify that satisfaction to satisfy the money folk. The key is to do it right.

Not surprisingly, (Regus, does after all, make their money renting temp and flexible office space) they found all kinds of benefits to working virtually. What’s more surprising is a formula they use to show return on investment: what they call the “Agility Dividend”. It measures three things: the “Efficiency Dividend” (property costs x fixed and operating costs), the “Productivity Dividend” (downtime x salary costs), and what they call the “Happiness Dividend” (commuting costs x time and cost savings).

It might be a stretch to suggest that our happiness is inextricably tied to our commute, but the numbers are pretty interesting. Most people in cities want a 10-15 minute commute, but most of us travel over 45 minutes each way. If we didn’t have to schlep to the corporate headquarters every day we could save a lot of time, stress and money.

This means that using so-called “third places” like temporary or shared office space, branch offices with “hotelling” capabilities and even the local Starbucks can give employees more choices in where and how to work. Technology makes it possible, the wide availability of choices makes it practical, what stands int he way much of the time is company policy (finance, IT and HR). That’s where convincing the people with the purse strings comes in.

There are tangible benefits to increasing employee “happiness”

The time saved in the commute almost always goes to productivity. Studies show that people who don’t spend lots of time getting to work actually spend most of that saved time working. If you can knock a half hour off your commute each day, that’s an hour we spend actually doing our jobs.

That number doesn’t include the amount of time and energy spent ducking or avoiding the commute. Quick, take a look around the conference table in any meeting at 3:30 on a Friday.

How much real work is getting done even though people are present and accounted for?

As companies rethink the amount of office space needed, they’ll generally find that smaller regional or shared office space saves money over the costs of a single large headquarters.

Of course, one sure way to increase employee happiness is to give people choice in how they work best. For example, the study shows that the majority of us like the idea of actually going to work instead of working from home, we just wish it wasn’t so darned far away. We also would love to have some choice in the technology we use.

If companies can save money by getting more out of people while spending less on infrastructure that would seem to be a pretty good deal for all concerned. The trick, of course, is to create the policy and strategy consciously instead of just letting it happen by accident.

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