The flexibility spectrum

The results are in.  Lots of people want to work from home a lot.  

Survey after survey (including my own research) have shown this.

Although we still recognise the benefits of the office for collaboration, creativity and relationships, there is a clear desire from employees (the office worker type at least) to spend less time there and more at home.  Even with the complexity of working through a global pandemic, many employees have still found a range of personal benefits from more homeworking, from productivity, to saving money and improving wellbeing. 

So now what?

Some organisations are already starting to think about what the future means for them.  Creating their new normal if you will pardon the 2020 cliché.  For some this is an opportunity to rethink their estates strategy and spend less on real estate.  For others it’s about meeting this new employee demand, considering it from the perspective of talent acquisition, engagement and retention. 

There is a decision to be made for those organisations: where do you want to be on the flex spectrum?

At one end, there’s having a flexible working policy and process.  Employees can make an application.  Have it duly considered.  A decision in the statutory three months.  The possibility of a trial period. A day a week from home but please remember to check with your manager to confirm the day before.  Within this approach the default office model (M-F, 9-5 ish) remains dominant. 

At the other end, there’s something else entirely.  Not just flexibility of working hours or locations but true personalisation.  Allowing someone to decide in the moment where and when they can best do the work that they need to do that particular day.  Empowering people to work in a way (and at the times) that align with their personal energies and rhythms – when they best feel productive.  Employees working around their other commitments, trusted to do their best and judged and rewarded based on their results and not on being seen in the office. 

We talk of blended, hybrid working practices. This is one possible future.  Some days in the office, some days out.  But again, at the heart of this approach is still the default model. Can we go further? 

As ever, context matters.  What works for one organisation, sector or role type won’t work for another.  Experimentation might be necessary to work out just what the best approach is.  But making that decision, figuring out – strategically – where you want to play is the starting point.

Either approach, both ends of the spectrum can deliver benefits both organisationally and personally. The latter, for many workplaces is a much bigger leap. Will feel more risky, pushes harder against typical organisational ills such as presenteeism, leavism, micro-management and heavy meeting cultures. 

The time to think about this stuff is now. The time to listen to what your people really want from their work and their workplaces, is now. 

We can go back to the default.  We can find a compromise between home and work.  Or we can make an even bigger shift. 

If we are brave enough. 

PS, my book on all of this flexible working stuff comes out in December.  An excellent Christmas present for all the family. 

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