The 6th Element

Last week I shared my 5 Elements of a Flexible Organisation presentation at the CIPD / ACAS Flexibility for All conference. I blogged about it in advance, hereDavid D’Souza from the CIPD tweeted me to say that he believed there was a sixth element; technology.

I reflected on what he had to say, and my own use of technology as a flexible worker.

When I’m working from home, or just generally working on the move, I use the following technology:

Email

Phone / conference calls (old school)

Wifi (obvs)

Lync (mostly just the instant message facility)

Skype

Laptop / iPhone / iPad.

 

Nothing exciting or radical in that list.

I also use Slack, for communicating with project teams, and Yammer for communicating with, well, anyone that is listening. But most of these tools are used equally in the office too.

When it comes to the technology needed to work flexibly, most of it is already there. If it isn’t on the corporate network, it’s free to use or download.  On the hardware side, many of us already own it – whether it’s the organisations or our own.

So the issue isn’t so much one of availability or needing new stuff, but capability and default ways of working.

I’m currently doing work in an organisation where meeting face to face is the default – even though many of those people meeting face to face are located across multiple buildings. Many meetings therefore involve a ten minute walk there and back for more than half of attendees – multiply that over the many individuals and many meetings and many working days of the year, and that is a whole heap of ineffective time.  There are of course times where meeting face to face is best, but there are just as many occasions where a quick phone call or a discussion in a Slack group would achieve just the same.

Capability is another important issue. It  might be 2018, but I still come across plenty of people who tell me that they ‘aren’t very good with technology’ like anything other than an email is some sort of devil’s work.  I’ve asked to Skype into meetings to save me a four hour journey to be met with surprise and outright refusal.  I know plenty of people who simply refuse to use tools like Slack because it is ‘too hard’ or they ‘don’t have time’.

I don’t have time is my favourite excuse. Because it rarely means someone doesn’t have time.  It means, for varying reasons, that they just don’t want to.  Maybe then I’m not even talking about capability, but desire.

The technology acceptance model tells us that there two primary factors that influence decisions about whether technology is used (when and how) – perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use.  The good old diffusion of technology model highlights the time that new technology takes to go mainstream – part of which is attributed to individual motivation.

My takeaways from these models (and that is all they are, they aren’t perfect) is that, scratch the surface, and attitude is a key factor at play.

And so, in conclusion, yes, technology is an element of a flexible workplace. But sometimes it’s not about new kit or fancy applications – just choice in using it and working a little differently.

Just like flexible working itself.

technology

 

Can we talk about Jane?

In recent months my coaching clients have been almost exclusively women.

Superwomen most of them.

But they don’t feel like it.

Let me tell you about Jane.

Jane isn’t one woman, she is many. One of many facing similar issues.

Most of the Janes have children. Some their own, others are step-parents.

Some of the Janes don’t just have children but other relatives to care for too.

All of the Janes have jobs. Some of them work full time, others part time.  Many of latter have often found however, that whilst their hours and pay have reduced, the work certainly hasn’t, and nor has the size or the needs of their teams.

Some of the Janes have flexible working – but often it is precarious, on the whim of an individual manager. Some of the arrangements are formal, others are of the ‘please can I work from home tomorrow’ variety.  Without this little bit of flexibility, often begrudgingly given, the house of cards would fall.

Most of the Janes are, of course, doing a whole heap of the emotional and domestic labour of their family lives too. Carrying the mental load of remembering birthdays and school PE kits and food shopping and getting the ironing done.

Some of the Janes have senior roles, big teams, plenty of responsibility.

Some have partners who are genuinely sharing the domestic and family load, others are very much on their own with it all.

Many have hobbies and interests that have fallen by the wayside as they juggle and juggle.

balance

They come to coaching to talk about their work life balance. To talk about their wellbeing.  They feel that they aren’t (delete as appropriate) exercising enough / being a good enough manager / developing their career at the pace they wanted to / finding any time for CPD / not getting to the school events / eating properly / spending enough time with their children, parents, siblings or friends / networking / reading books / being a good enough mum,  partner, step-parent, daughter /  giving their children healthy enough food.  They believe they are too unfit / relying on childcare too much / not coping / forgetting stuff / not delivering on their objectives / failing to have it all.

Here’s the thing all the Janes have in common.

They think it is them.

They don’t realise it is structural, societal, organisational.

They don’t realise that their company or their manager could be more flexible or the work could be organised differently and that would make them more productive and their lives easier along the way. That they don’t have to take all on all of the emotional labour even if they have been conditioned to believe that they must.  They don’t realise that it’s the organisations that is at fault with its presenteeism and its obsession with 9-5, face to face.  They don’t know that they don’t have to have it all, do it all, that it is okay to say that you are tired and need a break. They don’t know that you can just say screw the ironing and go to work in a crumpled shirt.

The strive for perfection is a heavy burden. The shoulds, the musts, the ought tos and the got tos.

The Janes don’t realise that I listen to them in awe as they balance and juggle and strive. As they manage families and relationships and careers and teams and all the day to day fuckwittery of life.

As a coach, my biggest challenge is not to over empathise, to over identify. Not to stand there and shout ‘Yes! Me too!’.

I so want these women to see and stand in their own power. To see their own awesomeness. To realise that it isn’t them, it’s the system.

So to the full time women and the part timers, the single moms and the married ones and the ones in between. To the biological moms and the step moms, the organic moms and the frozen fish fingers moms (because that is all they will bloody eat this week).  To the carers for relatives and the team leaders.  The senior managers and the newly promoted.  To the women navigating the school drop off and after school club pick-ups and still remembering to do the Tesco big shop on your phone on the train.  To the women studying into the evening or working a side hussle.

You are awesome. All of you.

And remember, even Superwoman occasionally needs a day off.

 

In other news, I searched for an image on the site I usually use for a hero, to accompany this blog post. It only gave me pictures of men…..

Commute Off

This tweet from the DWP yesterday gave me the hump. It appears to be an old post that has somehow resurfaced.  The premise, and that of the accompanying link, is that if job seekers would only travel a bit further (the just ‘try a bit harder’ merely implied) they will open up the opportunity of so many more job vacancies – and you will undoubtedly be paid more if you commute into the big city too!

tweet

YES! You too can spend your life in a car or on a dirty, unreliable train. You too can spend all your money on travelling!  Increase your stress levels!  Spend your time wondering whether you will get back through the traffic or the rail chaos in time to pick your kids up before nursery closes and they hand your children over to social services!  Have no time at all for activities that are important to you! 

But you know, money.  And dedication.

I do a 90 minute commute, and it is no fun at all. It is expensive, and I spend a lot of time waiting for delayed trains, standing in packed carriages with my face in a stranger’s armpit, and generally grumbling about it.  Sorry not sorry.  My commute stops me from getting to the gym, and means that there is often a pressurising mental list of life stuff that doesn’t get done.  I do it because I like my work, but that is a privilege that not everyone has.

Instead of suggesting people just get on their bike, why don’t we do something more radical instead? Like realise that cramming everyone onto the same packed roads and creaking public transports systems all at the same time isn’t helping anyone.  And embrace flexible working, technology and new ways of working, so that we can have both a job, and a life?

Just a thought.

 

 

Making flexibility a reality for all

On the 28th September I am delighted to be co-hosting a joint Manchester CIPD / ACAS conference on a subject close to my heart; flexible working.  Our key note speaker, CIPD CEO Peter Cheese, will address the subject of making flexibility a reality for all.

According to a recent Xpert HR survey more than half of organisations have experienced an increase in flexible working requests over the last two years.  These organisations attributed this increases to more supportive organisational cultures and changing workforce demographics.

Flexible working is often categorised as a family friendly benefit; something that’s all about working parents or perhaps carers.  But there is more to flexible working than going part time and formal requests following maternity leave – and it is valued by a much wider range of people than we might expect.

Flexible working is also about employee wellbeing, talent acquisition, employer branding, employee engagement and retention.  Flexible working is an opportunity.  More and more organisations are seeing the benefits and embracing it.  Only this last week PwC demonstrated how they are taking flexible working to ‘the next level’ by introducing a scheme through which staff can choose their working hours in a response to increased demand for flexible working patterns.  Their own research found that 46% of people say flexible working and a culture of good work/life balance are the most important factors when choosing a job.  This isn’t all that surprising when we stop and think.  Perhaps it is more of a surprise just how many organisations are still attached to traditional working patterns and upholding all the old barriers to more flexible approaches.

I believe that flexible working is essential for organisations in order to attract and retain a diverse pool of talent, at all levels. Along with a flexible working strategy it is key to inclusion, plays a part in reducing the gender pay gap and can improve workplace wellbeing and productivity.  Last year CIPD Manchester held the Big Conversation about work and families.  Through those discussions, we learned that there is much to do to enable parents and families in particular get the flexibility they need to fully contribute to the workplace whilst also raising a family. There is still too much getting in the way, too much ‘banter’ toward those that have to work flexibly, too much manager resistance. Stereotypes still thrive.

If you want to explore how to make flexible working work for you, hear case studies from those who have already had success and take away practical tools and tips, then why not come along to our conference as we attempt to move beyond the stereotypes and embrace better way of working.

You can find more information about the conference and book your ticket here.

conference

We can be heroes

My Other Half says that I only have two speeds.  Full on, or dead stop.

He is, in this and many other observations, quite right. I like to fill each minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run. I find sitting still a waste of time that could be spent doing stuff and more stuff. But just occasionally, like when I am on holiday, I stop still. I like to sit, chill, read, be. I immerse myself in books, mostly of a deeply unchallenging nature.

This last week has been spent in stop mode. Total relaxation.

Whilst doing so, I caught sight of a Twitter article referencing some senior leader or other who works 150 hour week. I didn’t read any further –  there is already too much glorification of busy to read more. What I do know, is that our brains and bodies aren’t wired for that sort of schedule no matter who we are or what we do. Get past  a number of hours each week, a number of days without rest, and we will decline in our abilities and our performance.

I’ve worked with many a leader who doesn’t know when to stop, when to recharge.  Who believe, or at least acts as if they do, that if they aren’t around the stuff won’t get done, that others won’t manage without them. At best, this is misguided. At worst, it is completely disempowering to the people around you.

We can be heroes, or we can be real.

Rest, is critical.  For some, it is a week in the sunshine. For others, perhaps a digital detox.  Maybe the recharge from time spent with family or friends.  Out. Of. Office.

Time from which we can emerge, renewed, re-energised, ready to take it all on again anew.

And that is how I feel today. Rested,  restored, ready.

Look out world.

Things that annoy me number 572

Last week a story was doing the rounds on social media.  Over on LinkedIn it was described as ‘uplifting’, ‘inspirational’, a ‘lovely story’ and ‘heartwarming’. 

It’s an American story, but I’ve heard similar tales in the U.K. too. 

A Florida based teacher is undergoing treatment for cancer. He had used up all of his sick leave and still had several rounds of chemotherapy to go.  He appealed for help and colleagues a plenty stepped up and donated their own sick days to make sure he had what he needs to get him through. Now that is absolutely awesome. And it is heartwarming when people, without the desire for anything in return, do something for others in need. 

But where is the employer in this positively framed story?

Inspirational? Uplifting? 

I call BS. 

The employer, and any other that allows this kind of system, should be utterly ashamed. 

Ghandi said that the true measure of society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. The same can be said of employers.

How you treat your sick, disabled, pregnant or otherwise vulnerable workers defines you.  It’s not about employee benefits and wellbeing initiatives and learning opportunities and all that other employer brand and engagement stuff. It’s about doing the right thing.  And from time to time this means sticking your neck out for someone in need, going above and beyond the policy and saying to hell with the precedent you might set. 

Good enough for jazz

jazz

I recently completed an ILM programme in wellbeing coaching. In the days that followed I got to thinking.  How could I take the essence of my learning to help others, beyond the few coachees I could work with at any one time?  How could I help people to think about their wellbeing and their health, and make positive change?  The answer seemed to be a workshop of sorts.  Creating a space in which people could explore how they feel about their wellbeing.  A space to encourage reflection, planning, change.  So I wrote the outline of a workshop.  I sent it to a colleague who helped shape it.  I put a post on our internal network to see if anyone was interested in trying it out.  Within a couple of hours I had an email from someone who is running a team event and would love to try it – the day after tomorrow.  From concept to delivery = 11 days.

My point is this. The workshop might be useful (I think it is, I hope it is).  It might not be.  But we will find out.  The content might not be perfect or polished.  But it is out there in the world.  The team know what they are getting: an experiment.  In return, I will get feedback.  The workshop will then get better for the next time.

I have worked in organisations where this would not be possible. Where I would have needed sign off and a project plan and a formal pilot with a de-brief and a lessons learned wash up.  A concept and a terms of reference and some aims and objectives and so on and so on.

There is so much stuff in organisations that slows down the doing. Sometimes, we strive for perfection when good enough might be good enough.  Other times, it is because of the ways of working, culture, bureaucracy.

In my experience, here are some of the worst offenders.

Consulting everyone

Voice is important. So is collaboration, diversity of thought.  But you can do too much of it.  If you have to get the opinion of every man and his whippet, you will not only slow the work down but risk diluting it.  You can never take into account or accommodate every single opinion and item on the wish list.  Talk to enough people (the right people) to get a range of views, and the push ahead.

Setting up a working party

The first meeting will inevitably be spent talking about the purpose of the working party and agreeing some terms of reference and a reporting mechanism. The second meeting can be used to sign these off.  By about meeting five, you might start getting some actual work done.

Having too many people in the room

Jeff Bezos from Amazon is known for his two pizza rule. Never hold a meeting in which two pizzas can’t feed everyone there.  We all know what happens when we have too many people in a meeting room.  The introverts and reflectors get lost, their voices unheard.  The meeting loafers sit back, taking no actions or responsibilities.  Groupthink kicks in.  Everything. Slows.  Right. Down.

Having too much project bureaucracy

Taking minutes, circulating them for comment, singing them off, apologies, action logs, printed papers…… You might need this stuff if you are doing highly complex work.  Massive projects.  Work were at some point in the future, someone will really need to look back to see what was decided and why.  But you don’t need to do this for everything.  When you have a set of minutes and an action log circulated after a meeting, you can pretty much guarantee that its main use will be someone opening it just before the next meeting to see what they had forgotten they were supposed to do.  Just make sure everyone knows what they need to be doing and crack on.

Sometimes we need governance, structure, data, reflection and perfection. Sometimes we just need to JFDI.  If it’s good enough for jazz, go play.