Flexible Working Post Covid-19: myth busting

The World Health Organisation has called this period ‘the great homeworking experiment’.  I call BS.  Experiments are planned for, controlled, organised. They usually also have an end date.  This is anything but an experiment in the true sense of the world.  It has however undoubtedly led to learning and reflection at both individual and organisational levels.  This learning, especially about remote working, has led to many organisations thinking about a more flexible future – and in particular how to meet the now established demand for blended and hybrid working. 

This is the third in a series of blog posts exploring what is required if we really want to embrace flexible working post Covid-19.  In this post I will be exploring the role of myths and beliefs.  Since many of us went to work from home in March 2020, some of the old myths about work have been dismantled – namely that for the most it needed to take place at a specific location.  Other myths are unfortunately are being re-written for a new world.  I devoted a whole chapter to the myths and beliefs about flexible working in my book on the subject – I had hoped we might have moved past some of them, but my twitter feed and email inbox tells me we still have much more work to do. 

Here are the new and revised myths that I am hearing now. 

If we allow hybrid working, everyone will want to work from home on a Friday

Some people will want to work from home on a Friday.  Some will not.  This is a management and leadership responsibility.  Hybrid working doesn’t mean you have to create some sort of free for all where no one turns up to do the face to face stuff and no one communicates about where they are going to be and when.  This isn’t about creating a flexible working Wild West. You have to put the systems in place to make it work. This is part of the process and can easily be addressed and prevented. If we start from here, we are also suggesting we don’t trust our people to know and do what needs to be done.

It will set a precedent

Yep.  This is still being said.  This exposes a fundamental misunderstanding about people management, and about inclusion and fairness.  We don’t need to treat everyone the same. This isn’t some sort of legal get-out clause.  It doesn’t amount to equality.  This is the worst possible reason to refuse flexible working.  Lots of people might want something?  Great. There’s a lesson in that. So why not explore it?

And in other news.  People have been working from home for ten months at the time I am writing this.  I think this cat is out of the bag. The precedent has been set – in a good way.

I won’t know what people are doing and if they are performing

Over the last ten months or so I have spoken to many HR people.  I have presented at conferences, had conversations on Twitter and been to virtual networking events. I have not met a single HR person who says that their business is dealing with a tidal wave of skiving.  One or two performance issues maybe.  Some from people who were underperforming before all this.  But feet up on the sofa watching Homes Under the Hammer?  Not so much.

If you are unable to tell if someone is doing their job or not without watching them do it, this is a fundamental failure of leadership and management. 

Do better. Seriously. This myth deserves a hard no.

Too much remote working will have a negative impact on company culture

If cultures are weak, if efforts are not made to maintain relationships, if we ignore values and meaning and purpose, then maybe.  Culture does of course shift and evolve – it is not a static thing.  After all, culture is often described as ‘the way that things are doing around here’, and the way that things are done has for almost every organisation everywhere changed in some way during 2020.  But remote and hybrid working by themselves will not fundamentally kill strong organisational cultures.  Culture should be part of any remote and hybrid working plan.

It won’t work for our organisation / team / department

This has probably been said about every new invention ever. Six or seven years ago businesses were using this myth to explain to me why they didn’t need to use social media.  It is evidence of status quo thinking.  Sometimes, a fear response.  Fear of something unknown, different, maybe requiring new skills.  Same is safe.  It can be a route to mediocracy….or even extinction.  Two choices – hang back or get ahead.

You can’t build relationships effectively when everyone is remote

I have some colleagues I am currently working with closely that I have never met in real life.  They are entirely Zoom based relationships.  We are working together perfectly well – although I very much look forward to the day when we can finally go for a coffee in person and I can find out how tall they are. Relationships are about people, not places.

It benefits employees more than organisations.

This myth is a real problem.  Employees of course will see the personal benefits first and foremost.  They will see the financial savings, the reduction of draining commutes on shoddy public transport, more time for self or family.  The organisational benefits are also significant.  Inclusion, the gender pay gap, talent attraction and retention, employer brand, employee engagement – should I go on?  The case for hybrid working is not made everywhere yet.  Many managers want to reassert the old ways.  Clearly articulating the benefits of increased flexibility is part of the solution to this particular challenge. It also needs to be in the flexible working plan.

Everyone wants to work hybrid now

This one is a new myth.  It’s also not true.  Lots of people want to go back to the office and never work from home ever again.  That’s okay too. 

Some organisations will have their own myths. This stuff is often hired wired to our fundamental beliefs about work. What is is, how it should be done, what it means to be a good employee. Tackling myths means unpicking beliefs too. It also means changing our language, and calling out behaviour. Can we start with ‘only part time’?

If you want to embrace flexible working, myth busting needs to be on your plan. Start with the myths detailed here for many are universal, and then look out for the specific ones that arise at your place.

Finally, for anyone who wants to read more about the stigma or myths that existed around flexible working pre Covid, this academic paper is a good place to start. 

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