Want your employees to get more done? Tell them to make themselves scarce. That's the disturbing finding of a new survey by FlexJobs, an online service for professionals seeking flexible or telecommuting jobs.

Of the 2,600 employees who answered the survey, only 24 percent reported getting their best work done at the office during business hours. The rest said they were most productive nearly anywhere else. Fifty percent said they did their best work at home, 12 percent preferred a coffee shop, library, or other public space over the office, and 14 percent said they could be productive at the office -- but only outside business hours, when everyone else was gone.

Why is the office such a bad place to get work done? Survey responses cited interruptions from co-workers, a distracting atmosphere, office politics, uncomfortable workspaces, and the stress of commuting. And these are not mild concerns. Thirty percent of respondents said they'd take a pay cut of 10 to 20 percent in exchange for outside-the-office work options, and 42 percent would give up perks to get them.

If you're an employer, this should come as a wakeup call, according to FlexJobs founder Sara Sutton Fell. "Companies should be very concerned when they hear that employees don't consider their normal workday in the office to be the best time or place to be productive on important work projects," she says. "They should take a step back and evaluate whether their workspaces are really supporting productivity or hindering it." And, she asks: "Why arbitrarily require people to work from somewhere that would make them less effective?"

There's a simple answer -- you shouldn't, at least not all the time. If these survey results worry you (and they should), consider taking some of these steps:

Create a telecommuting policy.

Allowing people to work from locations outside the office demands more thoughtfulness and better skills from bosses than the old-fashioned method of "managing by line of sight." But, as the FlexJobs survey makes clear, it's well worth the effort. If you don't allow employees to work from home, consider a pilot in which a few trusted employees work at home just one day a week for a limited period. That will allow you to try out telecommuting and see for yourself how it affects productivity.

Offer do-not-disturb workspaces employees can use when they need to concentrate on a project.

With 76 percent of survey respondents citing interruptions from colleagues, and 74 percent citing distractions in general as productivity killers, this is a no-brainer. Set aside a conference room, library, unused office, or other space where employees can go for quiet and focus.

Rethink your open-plan office.

I know they're popular and can look really cool. And cubicle farms are considered so 20th century. But neuroscience experts will tell you that the noise and constant distractions destroy concentration, efficiency, and even brain function. Having spent time working in the original open-plan office, a newspaper newsroom, I have to agree.

Look for ways they can avoid the commute.

There's little to love and a lot to hate about the rush-hour drive to and from work in most American cities. It degrades the environment, raises people's stress levels before they even arrive at work, and perhaps worst of all, takes up at least an hour a day of what could otherwise be productive time.

So help yourself and your employees by letting them avoid it. Adjust your office hours, consider a four-day work week with longer days to eliminate one commuting day, let employees work from home for part of the day or the week, or allow them to use co-work locations nearer their homes.

Make your office healthier.

Eighty percent of respondents believed working away from the office would make them healthier, and 29 percent said exercise was an important reason they wanted to work from home. With these findings in mind, it's a good idea to make the office into a more health-supportive environment, whether or not you allow employees to telecommute.

Consider bringing in healthy snacks or even a juice bar, on-site yoga classes, and/or fitness challenges, installing exercise equipment or offering memberships at low or no cost at a nearby gym. And while you're at it, review your office ergonomics to ensure that employees' workspaces support maximum health. Your employees shouldn't have to choose between coming to work and feeling their best.

Published on: Sep 23, 2015
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