When I comment about hybrid or flexible work on social media, someone will inevitably come along to point out what I haven’t thought about or why I am wrong. This disagreement generally takes the form of telling me what they like about the office, the commute, not commuting, working fully remote, working hybrid, returning to the office, not returning to the office, why we should return, why we should never go back. Etc.
This is a key problem when it comes to the adoption of flexible working. One person’s experience and preferences are just that. Their desires. Their choice. What works for them. The obvious issue is of course that this means absolutely nothing to or for anyone else. It is merely an anecdote. It is not evidence, or something from which we can draw a general conclusion. It cannot be extrapolated to a wider workforce.
Because when people say ‘the office is a great place to work’ or ‘remote working is fantastic’ what they often mean is ‘…for me’.
We desperately need more people to understand this.
Unfortunately, some of the people who are unable to separate their own working preferences from how other people want or need to work also have the power to decide what flexible work opportunities others have access to – and this is a big problem for acceptance of and accessibility to flexible, hybrid and remote work.
How we like to work is highly personal. It is, inter alia, about working styles, our circadian rhythms, our individual circumstances, the kind of work that we do, our social needs, our productivity, our home set up, our seniority…… For every person who is energised by an office environment there is another overwhelmed by it. For each person who values the transition provided by a commute there is someone who is drained and stressed as a result. And so on.
If we can get people to understand that work styles are personal, especially people managers, then we can dismantle one of the barriers to flexible work. We need to recognise that one size only fits one.
Productivity, engagement, motivation and wellbeing. All of these things can be enhanced by autonomy. Through providing people with as much choice as possible, in the context of what is possible in relation to the work that they do, we can maximise the benefits of flexible work. When we can step back and recognise that how we personally like to work is simply that and nothing else, we can get out of the way of other people and allow them to work in the way that works for them too.
And if you find yourself advocating for a particular form of work, maybe take a moment to reflect. Is what you are saying evidence based? Or is it just your personal frame of reference?