By: Stuart White 14-11-2018
Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,
It’s 5am when I, to quote from the theme tune from 9 to 5, sung by Dolly Parton ,
Tumble out of bed
And stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
And yawn and stretch and try to come to life
Following which I am immediately composing this column, marking my diary and checking and responding to my emails. It’s not surprising that I am getting immediate replies - others are working at this ungodly hour too. Should I blush that I am interacting with my clients while I am unwashed, hair ruffled and clad in nothing but scant clothing which improvise as pyjamas? I find solace in the thought that what my clients can’t see won’t hurt or scar them from life and this is part of the reality of working from home.
I don’t think anything of working like this. When I first moved to Botswana to start my business I worked from my bedroom and would get up every morning and put on collar and tie to do my job – even if it meant that I would not leave the room that day or come face to face with a client. I wouldn’t have dared make a telephone call or send a telex or fax after hours thinking this was unprofessional. At 5 o’clock I changed, figuratively and metaphorically, as the business day was effectively over.
Today it’s all different.
My thought this morning is how companies cater and compensate for such out of hours work which we all do and of course the only way is by genuinely allowing a more flexible approach to work. I strongly believe that people should have individual control over how, when and where they choose to do their work and that this makes for more inspired outputs. I know a lot of managers still struggle with this paradigm and question how you can stop people taking it too far and is it really possible to produce your best work while on a camping chair in the delta?
The biggest plus factor for flexible working is that it inherently suits us as human beings. The old 9 to 5, pigeonholing of people just feels wrong because, well we’re not pigeons who all behave in the same way as those birds in their communal loft. While we are similar as homo sapiens we are uniquely different when it comes to circadian rhythms, or our 'body clock', which has a huge impact on our behaviour and productivity - and that explains why some people, like me, are quite happy to be hammering away on the key board at 5am while others rock up 9 still wiping the sleep from their eyes.
When you are aware of your natural rhythm you can organise yourself so that you do your best and most productive work at the right time, not in the slot allocated to you by the job. How many times I have heard people say things like I’ am useless before 10’ and I have thought ‘OMG we have just paid you for two hours of nothing’! Flexibility to work allows an organisation to get the best from their colleagues 100% of the time like starting that employee at 10!.
What about location? Someone once told me that offices were generally designed with everyone in mind, which meant they worked for precisely no-one - by which he meant that no one would choose to have an office designed in the way they do, mainly grey, functional and to put it bluntly, dull. Fortunately, many companies now try to ensure creative and collaborative spaces, retaining the essence of what an office is meant to do, but putting a bit of 'fun' back into function. There may always be offices as there will always be a core of people that need that discipline of coming into an office to be able to produce their best work, same as there will always be a core of people that find working in public really distracting. I kind of like both. Sometimes I am at a coffee shop, sometimes here in my improvised pyjamas as I write this article or in the board room – it all depends on what needs done and my mood. Having flexibility with location allows me to choose what works for me for me to work.
The reason that we can work where it suits us is because infrastructure and hardware can support this style of working. I know you can’t issue everyone with a laptop but that’s not the biggest barrier to really offering a 100% flexible work life. That is the old bugbear, ‘Presenteeism' – physically putting in an appearance, even if it is just for appearance’s sake. Many managers still subscribe to the notion that if people aren’t ‘there’ how will they know if they are working? I say the same way that you would if they were in the office which is by measuring what they do and achieve. But, when you really don’t know what your employees do and achieve because you haven’t figured out how to measure them, then you will reset to default mode which is measuring their time…they came and they left – it’s the 9 to 5 box which you tick even when it is meaningless so to do.
Flexible working arrangements require trust and clear standards to truly be successful and whilst many organisations can happily deal with the latter, it is often the former that is missing. So, we don’t allow flexible time because we are scared that people could take advantage so psychologically, we obsess on the 1% who might abuse it rather than the 99% who would embrace it. It's actually very easy to spot someone who is being a bit too flexible (read ‘lazy’) when it comes to their work as the output just won't be there, just as it is easy to spot the people who might be overdoing it and working too hard. This is the core role of management and it doesn’t disappear or get diluted just because a more fluid approach to work is adopted.
For me having flexibility improves my happiness and satisfaction and that of my staff – without a doubt. But its not just staff who benefit, customers do too. The world has moved beyond 9-5 and services that fail to keep up, die. Many of our customers are working more flexibly themselves, so we need to make sure we can be there for when they need us, not when we think it is convenient. A flexible working approach means you can explore a greater range of opportunities in a greater range of time zones and a greater range of operating hours. The harsh reality is that we have moved into a global workplace which operates 24-7 even if that sometimes means in the privacy of our own homes and in our scanties!