Twenty something years ago, I began my HR career as the HR Officer in a warehouse. Back then, warehouse employees worked an eight hour shift. They were entitled to a 30 minute lunch break and two ten minute cigarette breaks. In those days, pretty much everyone smoked. The warehouse managers engaged a great deal of energy ensuring no employee took more than their permitted ten minutes. The assumption that they would if they could, came built in. These employees were the type that needed to be watched.
Fast forward a few years. Here comes the internet. Clunky and slow it might have been, but it was on our actual desks. Only I had to provide my employer with a list of the websites I might need for business purposes and everything else was blocked. Time on those websites monitored too. Just in case anyone spent a few precious paid minutes of the working day browsing the world wide web.
A little later again comes social media. Organisations worried about that a lot too. Blocking Facebook and Myspace (remember that?) just in case we poked someone whilst on the clock (younger readers, this is not a euphemism).
Today, it’s working from home. Politicians, certain ‘newspapers’ and some senior business leaders alike. Still concerned that flexible working or working from home must mean skiving, time wasting or just being too darn lazy and uncommitted.
Working from home = Fear of Skiving Off.
So we mandate fixed working days and set up remote monitoring tools and force people to come into the office when they don’t need too. Counting heads.
Here’s the thing. This obsession isn’t about working from home, any more than it was about social media sites, the internet or a crafty fag. It’s about two things. It is about a certain type of manager who does not trust people, and managers who are unhealthy obsessed with making sure that no one ‘skives’. For some people it almost feels personal. That the employee is somehow getting one over on them. They simply cannot tolerate this idea. For them, work isn’t about value or contribution or outcomes, but what is seen to be done. They will only tolerate the ideal worker.
It is fear driven, status driven. It is built on distrust, suspicion. It comes from a place of believing how you work is how everyone works (or should work). It is about an unwillingness to go out of your comfort zone. It smells of bias.
Of course, we all know that being in the office is no guarantee of productivity and constant focus on work anymore than blocking early versions of Facebook was. There are skivers in every organisation. There are underperformers too. But they are, in my experience, always in the minority. And just like with those who took a too long morning break, engaging in excessive Googling or tweeting, the answer lies always in dealing with those specific individuals.
The say that the hybrid working era has begun. And so it has, in some organisations. In others, the struggle for true acceptance goes on.