The game of cricket has unusual ways – yes some forms are played over five days and yes some games end in draws with no winner or loser – did I just hear a purist say ‘a draw is a result’? But the strangest one by far, is that cricket has not one, not two, but three umpires, all officiating at the same time.
Now, while the first two umpires toil away on the field (imagine five days in the sweltering heat of Mumbai or Chennai and you quickly get the picture), the third one sits in air-conditioned comfort. An on-field umpire can, use a radio link to refer close decisions to the third umpire. Statistically speaking, the third umpire is called upon on an average 7.29% of the time – okay, I made that up, but you get the picture, decisions are reviewed only occasionally during play.
Apart from being confused, are you wondering why I am rambling on about cricket umpires? Well, with some nifty rule changes (specifically Rule 3.1.8), can’t the third umpire ‘work from home’?
After all, in this day and age of high technology and uber connectivity (pun unintended), why should the third umpire, be forced to travel to a cricket ground and back home for each game day? I wonder what’s stopping the ICC from creating a ‘work from home’ policy for the third umpire. Why do some organizations allow their people to work from home, while others don’t? Let us review some of the latest research that supports working from home, some that doesn’t, and explore practical questions that an organization would need to address when designing a ‘work-from-home’ or telecommuting policy.
The case for working from home (for us and third umpires)
Well, everyone’s doing it:
60% of organizations today have some form of work from home policy, up from 20% in 1996, according to Society of Human Resource Management. Clearly, flexible working arrangements are popular. Technology and online collaboration platforms have made working remotely feasible, easy and second-nature for most of us.
And, people love it:
People love flexibility, especially the avocado toast loving millennial generation (apparently, they will take a salary cut in exchange for flexibility). 80% of telecommuters reported higher morale because they worked remotely and 82% of telecommuters (that’s what some companies call people working from home) said their overall stress levels were lower, cites Global Workplace Analytics.
Also, the results are definitive:
A 38-week Stanford University Study in China indicates that people working from home improved job performance on specific indicators by as much as 13%. Apparently, they also reported improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover. The productivity benefits of more engaged workforce are undeniable, 22% higher productivity accordingly to this Harvard Business Review article.
And guess what, third umpires (and we) are people too:
Observational studies indicate that 100% of third umpires are people. Augmented with technology, umpires today get 98.5% of decisions correct. Perhaps working from home, this could reach a perfect 100%. Moreover, this may help address the shortage of umpires that some leagues face and help attract talent to this profession.
The case against working from home (for us and third umpires)
Organization structures have changed:
A recent Deloitte Organizational Design thought paper indicated that only 38% of companies are functionally organized (i.e. by job type). Which means 62% are more collaboratively set-up with teams of people working together on specific projects.
And, delivery models have changed too:
Many companies today no longer deliver through a 'waterfall' work process, where work is handed from one person to another. They deliver using ‘agile’ an iterative delivery framework that incorporates near real-time feedback and faster delivery.
Hence, the need is for teams to be highly collaborative:
ANZ Bank, for example, recently cited that they viewed themselves as 18 tribes with 150 squads of 10 people each. A tight-knit team structure, with complementary skill-sets with real-time face-to-face collaboration likely leads to faster, more productive, and more creative workers.
And working from home, third umpires (and we) may not feel left out:
In some cases work from home policies may be too extreme, with people working exclusively from home. A University of Arizona study indicated that 40% of people who worked from home felt disconnected from the company’s strategic direction and 33% felt like they didn’t get the desired level of management support.
Is there a middle path?
As with most things in life (and unlike umpiring decisions), there is a middle path. Most organizations that have followed a balanced approach when it comes to their work from home policies. So is there a hybrid approach? Of course there is.
Here are ten questions to answer before creating a work from home policy (not an exhaustive list):
- Why are you implementing the policy? (for example, to provide flexibility and choice, work-life balance)
- Is it for everyone or only for a certain type of worker? (say, individual contributors)
- Does it apply all the time or only some of the time? (say, one day a week, if one chooses to)
- Is the job profile infrastructure dependent? (typical sales role vs. say mainframe developer)
- Do management styles need to change? (managing by process vs. managing by outcomes)
- Do your people have the tools to self-manage? (independent workers vs. those needing support)
- Is the type of work governed by regulation, statutory or contractual protection? (for example, intellectual property, confidentiality)
- Do your people have quiet / distraction-free home environments? (for example, shared / co-living space or background noise on calls)
- Have you or your employee provision for network connectivity? (reliable internet telecommunications and power)
- Have you provided for technology platforms that support off-site / online collaboration? (for example, video and voice chat)
Provide people with flexibility and the right to choose
In summary, an approach that provides people with the right balance between working from the office and elsewhere and the ability to determine where they work, based on need, could provide the greatest benefit to both the organization and the individual. Supporting this, Fortune magazine suggests that 85% of Fortune's best companies to work for allow employees to work from home atleast 20% of the time. Now, once you have people working from home, how do you manage them – a broader question perhaps, how do you manage an increasingly liquid workforce? That’s a topic for another day.
As for the matter of third umpires working from home, should we rule this one ‘umpire’s call’?
What do you think?
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About the author: After having worked with Fortune 500 companies, real estate developers and the public sector across emerging markets in Asia Pacific, Ramanujam (Ram) Srinivasan currently leads JLL's Canada consulting business. He's currently based out of Toronto.