I’m sure you’ve read your fair share of articles about the benefits of flexible working hours. That said, I thought I’d write a semi-philosophical piece about why, despite endless known benefits, flexible working policies are having a hard time becoming mainstream. I’ve noticed that whenever the topic comes up, there’s always somebody who says something along the lines of “yeah, I’m sure they’re good, but it’s not going to work at our organisation because [insert excuse]”.
Sure, your office administrator may need to be present at standard business hours. And your business developers probably wish a day had more hours in it altogether. But why do you really need to have the rest of your back-office personnel on a 9-5, with a strictly up to 1-hour lunch between 12-2pm? And just so we’re on the same page, I’m not arguing for a radical mass remote-working solution. Nothing can replace the cumulative brainpower of your marketing team, time for simple but necessary admin and communication, and these unfortunate meetings straight from the tube at 9am that happen to the best of us. But why is it seemingly such a problem to have your employees enter and leave the office when they see fit, even if they spend considerably less than those 8 hours/day in total (since, you know, you hired them because they’re professionals, thus assuming they know how much time is necessary to deliver results). After all, long gone are the days when the value we created was in equal parts tied to every hour we spent physically sitting at our desks.
Let me tell you a story. I used to work as a corporate finance analyst and my role involved a great deal of communication with people from accounting, marketing and business development. It was a prime example of a position where flexible hours are out of the question because coworkers assume that they may need you on short notice. By the way, from what I’ve heard that’s one of the more popular excuses used against flexible hour arrangements.
Once I quit that job and moved away (to pursue my own thing, mind you, not because of the hours; it was an overall awesome company to work for), I was offered a freelance remote working arrangement at the very same company. Suddenly all the reasons not to do it went away. I got remote access to necessary databases, presented my analysis at board meetings via Skype and simply called in if in doubt. It turned out that even my colleagues didn’t need me at every single hour of the working day after all. Admittedly, I missed out on conversations within the office that would have helped me keep tabs on the pulse of the company, snippets of information here and there that cannot be conveyed using any other means, but had I worked mostly on-site on a flexible schedule, I would have been present for most of them too.
So back to my initial question. Why is flexible working still such an issue? Is it an issue of trust? If so, why would you even hire people who you think would exploit such a policy? Or is it because a position is dependent on intense communication with coworkers? But then again, a responsible professional would recognise if that communication adds value to his/her work and plan the time accordingly.
The less-talked-about beauty of our age of technology and interconnectedness is that now we have social networks for professionals, led by LinkedIn, and event platforms that have all networking events in one place, thus bringing us ever closer to each other. In a way, this tandem works like a TripAdvisor for professionals, where one slip up, one company where you slacked at can loom over you for years to come, thus providing the ultimate motivation not to abuse a company’s flexible working policy.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that flexible working is disregarded simply because status quo doesn’t require additional effort (I wanted to add that it also doesn’t require compromise, but it indeed does require compromise from the employee side). I urge you to think if you cannot implement the policy for reasons that are more important than your employees’ motivation and wellbeing. The cynic in you may argue that the manager’s job is to have people generate value for the company, not make them happy. However, these two are necessarily related and will increasingly be so as the new generation of impact-driven workers are entering the job market.
Stripped to the bare essence, giving your people the chance to plan their own work schedule is the ultimate show of trust, and there are few things more powerful than that. It’s the surge of motivation and pride about your company every time you hear about your peer’s rush hour misery. It’s the implicit daily recognition of your work, your abilities and your impact instead of an annual bonus. It’s a show of respect to you as a professional and consideration to you as a person. And best of all, such a powerful motivational tool doesn’t cost anything if you finally admit to yourself that people sitting at their desks doesn’t necessarily equal to them being productive. If the work gets done, let it go and show appreciation. As I said, stop trying to find reasons why it’s not going to work. Take a page out of an entrepreneur’s playbook and find a way to do it.
Submitted by Egle Vinauskaite