Working from Work

As a result of recent inclement weather, we have a number of questions in relation to Working from Work, and would like to take the opportunity to clarify our position.

The Company recognises that employees may find it beneficial to work from a range of locations including (but not limited to) their home, with customers or clients or at co-working spaces. From time to time they may also wish to Work from Work.  We recognise that some managers are concerned about staff working from work on a regular basis.  This FAQs may assist you.

Will staff who work from work spend their time chatting in the kitchen or around the water cooler?

Most staff can be trusted to responsibly work from work. Where issues arise relating to performance or productivity, these should be raised as quickly as possible, providing specific examples.

Isn’t working from work just for people without children or caring responsibilities?

Anyone may want to work from work. Although working from work may suit some groups as a result of their personal situation, our Working from Work Policy applies to all staff.

If I allow staff to work from work, won’t I have to say yes to other people that also want to work from work?

Allowing staff to work from work does not automatically mean that you will have to allow other staff to work from work. You should use your discretion based on operational requirements.

Will productivity reduce if too many staff work from work, as a result of all the meetings?

Unnecessary, boring and overlong meetings can be a consequence of working from work. As a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that working from work does not amount to a distraction from actual work.

Isn’t all the unnecessary commuting detrimental to staff who work from work?

Yes, it can be. However we have an excellent corporate wellbeing progamme involving free fruit that will help off-set this.

How do I know if staff who are working from work are really working if I sit in a different office?

You can’t monitor every individual in the office all the time. Set clear objectives for working from work staff and monitor them as you would anyone else who works for you.

How should I manage work from work staff?

Recognise that working from work staff are just like everyone else, only they don’t get to watch Homes Under the Hammer.

Isn’t work something that you do, rather than a place that you go?

Nah.

 

PS – I totally stole the idea for this blog post from a spoof email that I saw yesterday but can’t attribute.  If anyone things I have plagiarised I will remove it.

 

 

 

 

Precedent. It’s not a dirty word.

Five years or so ago, I wrote about the word ‘precedent’. I suggested that it should be banned. I called it a cop out.  The poorest of HR (and manager) excuses for not trying something new, doing something different.

I have changed my position. A little at least.

Someone said it to me recently, in the context of flexible working (of course). The concern around setting a precedent is cited often by their management teams as a reason to say no.

I’d like to approach precedent differently.

Let’s see it as an awesome opportunity.

A Father wants to take discontinuous Shared Parental Leave? Let’s set a precedent by saying yes.

An employee wants to work compressed hours but we haven’t allowed that before?

Someone else wants time off work to attend the development programme of their choice?

Another wants to take a career break?

Let’s set a new, positive precedent.

If there is a risk that a precedent will be set and others might ask for the same, this might just mean that this is because they can see the benefit to them and their lives too. Demand is telling us something about what employees want and value – and in turn what they will join your organisation for, and stay there for too.

Saying yes to new ways of working may well encourage others. But change, challenge, innovation – these are things to welcome, not things to fear.

What is the real impact of ‘setting a precedent’ by saying yes? A few more requests for something or other.  A little bit of management time to assess them.  A meeting to communicate the decision.

When it comes to saying yes to something new, nowhere in the HR handbook does it say that we are then required to say yes to everyone, everything else, that we are ever asked in the future. The workplace isn’t a court of law, bound by the decisions that went before.  We just have to explain that to people.

It’s not rocket science.

 

Reasons to work flexibly, 1,2,3

…. and some more besides.

 

There are many forms of flexible working. There is flexibility in terms of place – where we work, and flexibility in terms of time – when we do the thing that we do.  There’s homeworking and coffee shop working and flexitime and term-time and compressed hours and annualised hours and job shares.

Whatever the type of flexibility we are talking about, it is increasingly clear that flexibility is desired by the many and not the few. For organisations, this isn’t about family friendly stuff, but about inclusion and talent.  Despite this, many employers (or more specifically in my experience, managers) still favour the traditional 9-5 type approach for many types of work.  Having their people where they can see them.

Here are 5 reasons why organisations should support flexible working:

  1. Employee engagement. People like flexible working and want flexible working. Providing it, providing the opportunity for more balance, better commutes, less stress – is going to help towards a more engaged workforce.
  2. Inclusion. Fathers who want to be more involved with the care of their children, individuals with disabilities who might find a rush hour commute impossible, carers, or those with significant family responsibilities. Whatever the reason for not wanting – or being able to – work traditional office hours, flexibility can help level the playing field.   See following point.
  3. Talent acquisition – offering flexibility gives you access to a greater pool of talent. It makes your employer brand competitive.   You can hire the best person for the job – not the best person for the job that can get into your office and work your normal contractual hours.
  4. Talent retention. Engaged employees are less likely to want to leave. Ditto employees who have a working pattern that works for them and their family. Engaged employees are less likely to want to leave. It’s all connected……
  5. Cost. For those organisations that can embrace entirely flexible and mobile working this can lead to the need for less office space. Fewer desks. Lower rents. And there are those employee travel costs too. How many empty desks are there in your office when people are out and about?
  6. Life Work Balance. The often long and grinding commute. Stress of the school run. The worry about who will look after the kids if…..and so on.   Flexible working can, in my own personal experience, lead to healthier, happier staff.
  7. Productivity. Not everyone works effectively in traditional office hours, or in the typical office environment. Allowing people some flexibility around when and where they work, when they are most creative or productive – this is a mind-shift change from judging people on how long they are in the office to what they achieve.

For some roles at least, to be effective all we need is a laptop and a wifi connection. The tech is already there – it’s about maximising its potential. Flexibility shouldn’t be an employee benefit, reserved for the lucky few. For those organisations and role types where it is possible, flexibility isn’t a perk – it should be a strategy.

 

The imposter within

Can I do this?

I can’t do this.

Any minute now, someone is going to Find. Me.  Out.

The voice of the imposter.

The nagging doubt, telling you that you can’t. That you don’t belong.  You probably shouldn’t even try. That you are going to mess this up, any minute now.  And everyone will know, that you didn’t and you probably never could.

It is the voice of all of the fears.

I recently attended a lecture on Imposter Syndrome at the University of Manchester. The speaker said that around 70% of people agree that they have suffered imposter syndrome at some point in their careers…. and the other 30% might just be lying.

I can remember the last time it happened to me. Two years ago I decided to qualify as a Personal Trainer.  I’d been on a personal journey from morbidly obese to running a half marathon.  It inspired me to learn more about maximising my own fitness, and a desire to share my learning with others.  On the course, there was no one like me.  No one just starting out, no one only a little bit fit.  No one still carrying around some excess weight and a whole load of insecurities.  The course was full of powerful women.  Literally.  Women who could boss around some big weights.  Who were lean and strong and supple.  For whom fitness and focus wasn’t something new but something everyday.

And the voice started up. What are you doing in this room? With these people? Just who do you think you are?

The first coffee break came (only they all drank water). Discussions about diet and protein and plans and just how much time did you spend working out in the gym and what is the most you have bench pressed.

Outside of my comfort zone. Inside, all of the fear.

I nearly ran. But I didn’t.  I stuck it out, tried not to listen to the voice in my head that said I didn’t belong.  That any moment now, someone would find me out.

For me, the learning from the lecture was this. Imposter syndrome is normal.  It is something we all experience a little or a lot, at some time in our lives.  But it is just a voice, the manifestation of all of our fears.  It isn’t reality.  There are some true frauds.  But it usually isn’t us.  To decide whether the voice in our head speaks reality or belief, we must look at the evidence.  Often, that evidence points away from suggesting we are an imposter, to something else entirely.

For me, after all of the doubt and the uncertainty, I passed the course after all. No imposter here. Just me, doing the best I can.

 

You can find the Storify of my tweets from the lecture here.

 

In praise of the Working Time Regulations 

“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. If I was to stop you half a crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge.

 

How ironic it seems to me that we are hearing about the potential of reduced rights for workers at Christmas time. Reports are circulating that post Brexit, the Working Time Regulations will be an early target for change or even repeal. The gutter press would have us believe that this is about reducing that great enemy of the economy; red tape.  That it is about taking back control of our laws, reducing the power of those meddling European judges.  It was even suggested by one ‘newspaper’ that the removal of the maximum 48-hour working week was a victory for all those hard working families (e.g. not anyone in receipt of benefits, claiming asylum or anyone else that isn’t the appropriate type of deserving poor) as they will be able to earn so much more overtime by way of their zero hours contracts, low paid gig economy task, modern day sweatshop or otherwise insecure employment that pervades our labour market.

But make no mistake, reducing hard fought for employment rights is what it is really all about.

For the uninitiated, the Working Time Regulations aren’t about unelected European bureaucrats, red-tape, immigration or anything else that the press routinely stir up hatred against. Nor were they about improving employer brand, Glassdoor score, employee engagement percentage, winning the war for talent or any other HR related intention. 

The Working Time Regulations are about health, safety and wellbeing. They provide, inter alia, limits on the amount of work and hours that people can undertake to ensure that health, safety and wellbeing – of the worker and of others.

Naturally, some relevant facts were left out of the headlines. Specifically that, in relation to the maximum 48-hour working week, employees have had the ability from the introduction of the Regulations in 1998, to opt out.  To choose to work more, if they wish to do so.  There is no ability to opt out of other provisions of the act, namely those that relate to rest.  20 minutes rest after six hours work.  At least a day off a fortnight.  20 days paid holiday a year*.   Not too much to ask, is it?

Do we really want to consider taking any of this away? Do we really want to have a society in which people can be exploited by unscrupulous employers, or can even choose to work themselves into a state of ill-health?  Put the health and safety of others at risk because of fatigue?

Maybe it is a terrible inconvenience for some employers that they have to provide the occasional break, paid holidays or rest periods. Maybe it’s just too much of an administrative burden for organisations to monitor the working hours of the people that work for them, or to provide an opt-out form, or check the health of a night-worker.  Perhaps the challenging economic position in which we find ourselves is all the fault of the Working Time Regulations.  Perhaps that all employees want for Christmas, is a return to Dickensian working conditions? is the ability to work more overtime?

Vital employment rights and protections must not, cannot, be sacrificed in the name of reducing red-tape, via the Brexit back door. Otherwise the working conditions of Scrooge and Marley will not be an amusing fictional exchange, confined to history, but the reality of some in our labour market.
*It should also be noted, for anyone wishing to jump on the Europe bashing bandwagon, that in respect of holidays, it is the UK that extended the right form 20 days leave (which could include eight bank holidays) to 28 a few years ago. I’ll stop now.

Reasons to be flexible

I read an article yesterday, all about flexible working. Contained within, three reasons why companies need to consider it.  One of them?  Because the law says so and it might be illegal not too.

And herein lies the problem.

The flexible working discourse is mired in the legislative framework. It is all about how we ‘handle a statutory request’, as opposed to having actual conversations with people about their wants and needs.  It is also the basis of our policies and processes.

Many of those policies do only that which is required by that statute. Often, the list of statutory reasons to say no right up front in the document.  The legislation was initially written for those with children or caring responsibilities – and we continue to associate the need for flexible working with these limited groups.

Approaching flexible working in these terms will mean that we forever miss the point. We will continue to view it through a family friendly lens, rather than one of talent or inclusion, or many of the other reasons why flexible working can be a Very Good Thing.

So in the interests of balance, here are my reasons why flexible working should be the rule, not the exception.

The current model of work (for the traditional office based worker at least) is predicated on the idea that we all go into an office at similar times of day.  This leads to poor outcomes for individuals and the environment – and even the organisation.  Long, crowded, expensive and stressful commutes.  Not good for wellbeing of any kind.  We know too, that many of us don’t do our best thinking in an office environment, surrounded by distractions and even more traditions of work that are often not conducive to what an organisation really needs (excellence, innovation, agility and so on and so on).

So why do we do still do it? These working patterns are hard wired and traditions die hard.

There are plenty of reasons as to why we should have more flexible working.

Flexibility is an inclusion thing. If we truly want rich, diverse and inclusive workplaces, then they need to be open to everyone, whatever their personal situation.  Consider someone with a physical disability.  How much harder is it for them to even get into a workplace on public transport in the crowded rush hour?  To travel to a workplace probably not in many ways set up for their specific personal needs, as opposed to their home which will be.  Whilst I don’t want flexible working to be a gender thing, a lack of flexible working at senior levels is a contributing factor to the lack of women the further up we go in the hierarchy.  Want to tackle your gender pay gap?  Start by thinking about making work more flexible.

It’s not just an inclusion thing – flexibility is also a talent thing. We’ve all heard about the much clichéd war for talent. We are so bought into the concept of employee engagement that we spend significant amounts of money and effort surveying it and action planning it and communicating all about it. We worry too about our retention of our talent.  Sadly, offering true flexibility is still a rare thing.  Which means that it is also a big talent opportunity – a way to attract, retain, engage and motivate.  All at very little cost.

Finally. And I saved the big one for last.

People want it. It is that simple.

I could go on about millenials and the new world of work.

But ultimately, the best reason of all is simply this one. Many of the people that work for you today, want more flexibility in their work and their lives.  If you don’t offer it, just maybe they will go somewhere that will.

The Monday to Friday 9-5 pattern of office work is a one size fits all model that meets the desires of the few.

It is 2017. It is time to put aside our prejudices and stereotypes and yesteryear glasses about where and how we work.

Let’s make flexible work, work.

 

If you want to read more about this subject, check out this great post from Paul Taylor.

Never stop working….

… on your work life balance.

Everyone has competing demands on their time.  Work, family, home, responsibilities.  For many of us, daily life is a juggling act as we attempt to meet the challenge of doing it all.  Talk of finding balance between work and life has been around for a long time.  But it seems somehow, elusive.

But work is part of life.  Life and work don’t have to be two competing concepts.  They are not binary. For some work is also a personal passion.  A fundamental part of who we are and how we define themselves.

Technology has both enabled and challenged the idea of work life balance.  It has allowed work to be done more flexibly in terms of time and location, but at the same time it brings with it the challenge of being constancy contactable.  The pressure of the immediate response.  Ever more ways of contacting and notifying us of something to look at Right Now.   If there are lines between home and work, they are ever more blurred.

I have seen mention of a new term lately: work life integration. An acknowledgement perhaps that it is not balance that we should strive for but something else.  A way in which we can integrate these two dimensions, these two fundamental parts of ourselves, and seek a way that that they can come together that is conducive to both good work and personal wellbeing.  Or maybe, it is just old wine in new bottles.  A new terms to blog about.

Many organisations are thinking about the work life balance of their employees, in some form or another. From family friendly policies to flexible working to wellbeing programmes and EAPs, there is no shortage of initiatives. Of course the question must be asked….. is there a gap between the rhetoric and the reality?  Is it real care, or simply care wash?

But whatever an organisation does, however enabling and supportive it may be, work life balance starts with us.  The individual.  All too often we don’t do enough for ourselves.  We don’t make us a priority.  Instead our work, our never ending ‘to-do’ list and the stuff and the stuff….. it all takes priority over our own health and wellbeing.  Perhaps it feels a little selfish sometimes, to put yourself first.

What amounts to good work life balance is different for everyone.  There is no simple, one size fits all formula.  It isn’t, as the term suggests, about finding an equality between the two, but something that works for us and sustains our physical and mental health.  What that looks like, change too.

I once read that if you love something, if it nourishes you and gives you energy, whatever it is, make it non-negotiable. Fight for it if you have to.  It is a sentiment that stuck.  For me, for a long time, it was exercise.  And even though I’m no longer as focused on my physical fitness as I once was, when I need to relax, when I need to breathe and find a little calm jus for me, I swim.

The few things that I know about work and life and balance, is that if you need to make changes, speak up. Your company might offer you some free fruit or publish a policy, but they can’t own it.   Protect what is good for you.  And finally, feel free to say no to the things that are not.

The best work life balance is the one we have created for ourselves. Only we can make it happen.  Every day.