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Q&A With Sara Sutton Fell: 3 Misconceptions About Flex Work

As we’ve said many times before, work is not a place, and we believe flex work is here to stay. You may think flex workers are less productive, that flex work is a perk or that it simply doesn’t work for everyone, but we think you’ve got it all wrong.

To address some of the top misconceptions about flex work, we spoke with the Founder of the movement 1 Million for Work Flexibility and CEO of FlexJobs, Sara Sutton Fell. Not only did she create a job board just for telecommuters, but also her entire team operates virtually (how’s that for walking the talk?). She started 1 Million for Work Flexibility to help expand awareness about the issue of work flexibility, and PGi is pleased to be a 1MFWF supporter organization.

Here’s her take on why flex work is the future of work, not merely a perk.

1. Flex Workers Aren’t Unproductive, They’re Mismanaged

Q: What is the top reason you hear employers cite for not offering flex work, and how do you respond to that?

A: We hear all sorts of reasons, but really, they all come down to a lack of understanding as to how flexible workers can and should be managed. Whether it’s a belief that flexible workers are less productive, that creativity can only happen with in-person collaboration or that certain jobs simply “can’t” be flexible, these are all common misconceptions about flexible and remote work, and they’re all related to management. We also offer companies advice on how to manage a flexible or remote workforce, because we do it ourselves every day, being a 100-percent virtual company.

Q: At many companies, employees feel or are penalized for working from home under the notion that they lose face time and aren’t working as hard as those in the office. How can employees battle the flexibility stigma?

A: Employees need to be their own advocates. Don’t let yourself fade into the background; actively reach out to your manager and colleagues. Ask questions, offer to help with projects and make it known that you’re a team player – even if you’re virtual. And ask for what you deserve! If you have a clear record of doing your job well, there’s no reason a company should treat you differently in terms of salary and benefits than an in-office worker.

2. Flex Work Is a Necessity, Not a Perk

Q: Currently, many employers view flex work as a perk. Do you think this attitude towards flex work will change in the future?

A: It absolutely needs to change. We need to stop thinking about work flexibility as a perk, and start focusing on it as being central to our standing in the global economy. In order to stay competitive, companies need to embrace flexible work options as standard operating procedure because they support productivity, attract the best talent and help the bottom line. I believe the attitude is already shifting away from “perk” and towards “necessity” and will continue to shift in the future.

3. Flex Work Is for Everyone (Even Creative Teams)

Q: Do you feel flex work empowers women, as primary caretakers, in the work force?

A: I do recognize the benefits of flexible work for working mothers, but I don’t think flexible work options should focus on any particular gender, age or parental status. Flexible work also empowers working dads, people without kids, people with disabilities, anyone acting as a caregiver, students and anyone seeking better work-life balance. Flexible work has the unique ability to impact all workers, and that’s why it’s such a driving force in the employment sector.

Q: Productivity is often extolled a major benefit of flex work, but what about creativity? Can telecommuting be supplemental to creativity at innovative companies?

A: Creativity doesn’t need to be lost if people are working from home. In fact, a recent study found that employees who work from home are 11-20 percent more productive on creative tasks. I think a lot of this has to do with the less distracting environment of a home office. It’s also a space that each employee can build to suit their own needs, and they can make it more conducive to creative work than a traditional cubicle. And if collaboration is important to creativity, there are so many ways to collaborate virtually! Web and video conferencing, screen sharing, document sharing and project management software make it easy to interact in real time and collaborate with remote coworkers.

Still not convinced? Read more about telecommuting myths and truths at the FlexJobs blog, and stay tuned for our next interview with Sutton Fell on the role of managers in the era of telecommuting.

About Ashley Speagle

Ashley Speagle is a Florida-born, Georgia-raised communications specialist, couch movie critic, dream interpreter, acrophobic adventure seeker, outdoors enthusiast, and easy-going introvert.

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