Productive Business is All (Nothing) About Geography

By sethmsparks

The future of the productive and engaged business will be focused on finding right fit employees based on skills and values without geographic boundaries.

Today most companies hire talent under geographic limitations, such as the applicant curently living near, or being willing to reloacted to, the businesses office. This limitation in the candidate pool is often unnoticed, because businesses believe they can find the talent they need within those geographic limitations. However, the ever important business topics of fit, engagement, and happiness are often not included in the assessment of applications. This second axis of evaluation doesn’t exist for most oganizations. Inversely, applicants rarely assess how engaged and happy they might be in that new position as well. This creates an enviroment where candidates who can do the job are hired and paid, but that second axis of fit/happiness/engagement is overlooked. This often leads to excess turnover, time off, lost productivity, and lack of innovation.

When addressing the second axis (looking beyond a candidates skills and drive), I think Avinash Kaushik’s recent manifesto is spot on. He asserts that the fulfilled worker needs alignment across three pillars of their work life (accompanied by my descriptions);

  1. What I Do – The work I do on a daily basis is that which I am capable of
  2. What I’m Passionate About – I’m not only good at the work I do, but working on it is neither physically nor mentally draining, it energizes me
  3. What My Company Values – The work that I do and am passionate about, supports my and my companies mission and values

Avinash lays these pillars out as zones in a Venn Diagram and as they begin to overlap, the engagement and happiness of the individual is amplified. When all three zones completely overlap, he calls it Nirvana. I’ll admit, that Nirvana may not be possible, but getting as close as possible is the key to engagement and happiness.

Studies are constantly proving that engaged and happy employees have significant benefits over the alternative. In a NetBalance article called Happiness at Work, a number of stats around engagement are cited:

  • 33% higher profitability (Gallup)
  • 43% more productivity (Hay Group)
  • 37% higher sales (Shawn Achor)
  • 300% more innovation (HBR)
  • 51% lower turnover (Gallup)
  • 50% less safety incidents (Babcock Marine Clyde)
  • 66% decrease in sick leave (Forbes)
  • 125% less burnout (HBR)

Similarly, Shawn Achor, TedX speaker and author of The Happiness Advantage, posits in his work that “25% of job success by predicted by IQ, 75% is predicted by optimism, social support, and your ability to see stress as an challenge instead of a threat”. Shawn also shares the benefits of his “Happiness Advantage” theory:

  • Better secure jobs
  • Better keeping jobs
  • Superior productivity
  • More resilient
  • Less burnout
  • Less turnover
  • Greater sales

With all of the research obviously pointing towards the happiness imperative, it’s difficult to dispute. Returning to the hiring conundrum I began with (the neglect of the second axis that speaks to happiness and engagement), it becomes paramount for businesses to begin finding skilled candidates that have a passion for the work and the company. Finding these candidates however becomes much more difficult. As Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail) might say, post-filters have an impressive ability to narrow down search. In my example on hiring, the dual axis post-filter would likely reduce the volume of results and create a very narrow candidate list. Potentially too narrow.

This is where the geographical barriers need broken down. The tools for successful workshifting/teleworking/etc. are all there. We have phones, teleconferences, video conferences, collaboration software, project software, and social software. Remotely, we can sign contracts, design product or creative, and share everything. We’ve even got an aviation transit system that can get anyone, anywhere, in a single day, if they really need to meet in person.

All of the tools are there for this to happen, so why hasn’t it? One could surmise that people don’t want it. But a Global Workplace Analytics study says that 79% of US Workers say they would like to work from home at least part of the time. Stretching that out a little bit, theoretically it would appear that people have no issues working remotely.

Maybe it’s because the jobs people have aren’t conducive to working remotely? Nope. Again, Global Workplace Analytics comes to the rescue stating that 50% of the US Workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least part-time telework. And if a job is built for part-time telework, it can easily be adjusted to allow for full-time telework.

So now, we’re left to guess why businesses haven’t adopted. I think there are a number of reasons we aren’t commonly seeing this.

  1. Leaders are companies are ignorant about technology and its ability to maintain relationships compared to the “good ol’ days”, and are scared to adopt new technologies as their ignorance will be visible
  2. Companies don’t trust employees to have the freedom to work outside the office for fear of lost productivity (I would argue this is a hiring problem, more than a governance problem)
  3. Companies fear that remote associates won’t live the company culture that everyone else does (I can say that more often than not, the company culture of politics and chest puffing outweigh the support and innovation a culture is supposed to promote)
  4. Not enough businesses are engaging in the practice, so outliers haven’t been observed and caused an environmental change of course (AKA, the tide hasn’t lifted all boats yet)
  5. A big fear for many business is that they don’t stand for something altruistic enough to attract passionate job seekers, making the second axis irrelevant and their jobs a commodity where they are taxed by higher salaries to keep people in seats

There are more reasons why businesses are reluctant to move on to this. But the only real factor that will speed up the business environment is #4. As more businesses begin to adopt the practice, see the results, and continue to adapt the technology, thier business success will trumpet the opportunity. As that success continues, the business environment will become one in which you either change, or you die. It’s just like with every other technological and cultural adaptation business have had to adjust to in the last 20 years. And as usual, there will be many businesses that will get left behind.

As a worker though, the prospects of bringing my talent to a role that aligns with my Zone of Genius, for a company that is creating a “world” that I believe in… Nirvana indeed.

(And I didn’t even mention the $11,000 savings per employee for telecommuting a business would gain.)