Barely a day goes by without a new report or survey on flexible working. How it is the future, how demand is escalating, how people would rather have flexible working than a pay rise.
I’m all in favour of flexible working. It is very much on my mind this week too, as I begin working part time (what an awful turn of phrase) to enable me to study for something entirely new. But many organisations are not there yet. So here are my ideas about just what needs to happen before the flexible working revolution can take place.
- A job where place and time isn’t everything. Despite the ‘effective everywhere and anywhere’ rhetoric, there is something of the luxury around flexible working. Not everyone can afford it, some roles just cannot sustain it. A knowledge worker with an internet connection might be able to work in a Starbucks, but there are other people who are working in a Starbucks too. They are called Baristas and they have to be there to serve your coffee when the shop opens. And let us not forget that some people have much more flexibility than they want or need. Zero hours contracts anyone?
- For flexible working to stop being a female issue. Flexible working comes in many guises, has many drivers, and is desired by many. Not just those returning from maternity leave.
- Trust. This is at the heart of flexible working. You need to trust the people that you work with, unless you have a very good reason not to. Yet there are many managers for whom seeing is believing. For whom sitting at a desk equals contribution. But frankly, you can sit at your desk and do little of value. Working from home, working outside the nine till five routine, is more possible that many people believe.
- Technology and the ability to use it. But you don’t need all that much, as long as you avoid stupid rules. A wifi connection mainly. Add in Skype and an Enterprise Social Network and you are away.
- Will. It isn’t all that hard to make flexible working, work. But it does need commitment on both sides, and the recognition of the mutual benefits. And if you just aren’t sure, trial it.
- Communication. This is when I work, this is when you can get hold of me, this is when you can expect a response. Simple, but helpful.
- A change of mind-set. There is no law about coming into an office. No legal requirement to work Monday to Friday 9-5. Merely, a tradition. I have included this quote from A Year Without Pants in previous blog posts, and it is so true of many of those working practices we hold on to around how and when we work: If removing a restriction improves performance or does not impact upon performance but improves morale, everyone wins. Continuing tradition simply because it is a tradition works against reason.
Just two final points from me.
Firstly, we should stop the myths and jokes about flexible working. Like this one. They don’t help.
And secondly, as the surveys and reports focus on the flexible future, we should not forget about those for whom flexible working isn’t the answer, or simply isn’t an option.
Number 6 is crucial for me… Communication. When I was employed, I was told that clients wouldn’t accept flexible working; I needed to be available 8.30-6.00 every day. Nonsense. I now run my own business, and clients understand that my working hours may be different to theirs – we just need to be honest! I’m very up front about the fact that I’m generally not around 3.00-3.30 unless it has been arranged in advance, and to my knowledge, this has never caused a problem…Just as the client who doesn’t work on Fridays isn’t a problem for me, because I KNOW 🙂
I also find the do as I say but not as I do mentality frustrating, I worked for years with a manager who had one day a week working from home, similarly another manager worked compressed hours but did her extra hours on an evening at home when I made a request it was met with hostility and why would you want to do that (health was awful at the time and I was struggling with the commute). Eventually it all came out in the wash that the CEO said well I don’t know what you will do at home all day – which my reply was and that is what everyone in the office says about your day working from home so if that is your issue you better start coming in.
I often here, how will we know if they are not just sitting watching tv when a request for home working comes in, my reply in HR is as a manager if you don’t know what your staff are working on and their workload and you are not supporting them in achieving this then we have problems. There is no need to micromanage but a good manager should be aware of their teams commitments and where the peaks and troughs in work are.