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July 15, 2013For many years, I ran my own business, providing freelance editorial and project management services to clients throughout North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia—all while never leaving the comfort of my home in rural New Hampshire, where I raised two children, neither of whom attended daycare. My own flexible work arrangement (FWA for short) meant interviewing a source with the phone balanced on my shoulder while I simultaneously poured juice for my children and propped the mudroom door open to let the dog in.  

One afternoon, I got a call from Catalyst’s then-Vice President of Publishing. Liz and I had worked together when I contracted on a long-term financial content project she was managing before she joined Catalyst. After a few minutes of small talk, she cut to the chase: “Nancy, would you be interested in a staff position?”

My response was reflexive. “Oh, noooo way,” I guffawed. “I value the flexibility of freelancing way too much.”

Shortly after my second child was born, I’d become a freelancer specifically to achieve work-life balance. My husband and I had always worked opposite shifts so that one of us could be at home with our kids at all times, but the toll those late nights at a daily newspaper took on me—and, by extension, our entire family—was unsustainable.

I told Liz I’d be willing to contract for Catalyst. And I did, for six months. At which point, I then called Liz: “So, about that job…”

You see, what I didn’t know when Liz first pitched the position to me is that Catalyst not only produces cutting-edge research on work-life effectiveness, it actually practices what it preaches. This September will mark five years that I’ve been editing and project managing Catalyst’s research knowledge products—yes, all from the comfort of my own home as a telecommuter.

Catalyst’s recently released report The Great Debate: Flexibility vs. Face Time—Busting the Myths Behind Flexible Work Arrangements is a study not only about workplace flexibility, but also in workplace flexibility. Throughout the first half of 2013, Bank of America, Yahoo, Best Buy, Amazon-owned Zappos, and other industry leaders announced cutbacks to their FWA programs in the name of “successful collaboration and innovation.” These decisions provided Catalyst with a timely opportunity to dispel the persistent myths that have since distorted the conversation about flex in the broader business community and media—timely being the operative word.

My boss, who works from a home office in Minnesota, and I chatted briefly by IM and phone to discuss how to meet the report’s fast-track release date. Between the two of us, and in about an hour, we communicated and coordinated production scheduling with all team members, including the report’s co-author and the art director, who both work from Catalyst’s Wall Street office; the freelance proofreader, who works from her New York City-based home office; the Boston-based designer; the upstate New York-based fact-checker; and several members of the Catalyst Marketing team, some of whom work from the Wall Street office and others of whom work virtually.

By adapting the production cycle on the fly, reprioritizing previously scheduled deliverables, working at night and on the weekend in exchange for time off during core work hours, and keeping team members looped in with daily and, at times, hourly, production updates, we managed to release a report that should have taken up to seven weeks to produce in just two weeks—all without a single face-to-face meeting.

Successful collaboration and innovation?

Indeed.