For most of the 20th century, people went to offices in cars the way parts were carried along a conveyor belt – predictably, almost uniformly.
Then in the 1970s a cheeky Astronaut – Jack Nilles – proposed that working from home could revolutionise productivity and reduce strain on infrastructure – an apparent win-win. His idea had merit but few saw it as a valid alternative.
Fast forward through the 80s, 90s and Noughties and the current work world is abuzz with ideas about ‘alternative’ workstyles, flexible work and non-traditional ways of working.
While ‘telecommuting’ in the 1970s was a fad, this little trend has now snuck its way almost into the mainstream. In the US, 23 percent of people report doing some or all of their work remotely. In New Zealand, 30% of adult employees are now working from home.
Being almost in the mainstream is a long way from being actually mainstream, despite what workers might hope.
And that’s the point, workers are seriously in hope of finding a savvy leadership team who actually gets it and gives them a Workplace Experience that can help them gain more control over how they manage their work and life – to that leader they’ll devote loyalty beyond what she or he can buy.
Sidestep with me for a second. Let’s have a look at whether the square hole is a good fit for the current round peg.
How does it work to run your business with a traditional nine-to-five working arrangement, where every employee works from the same location at the same time – conveyor-belt style?
For all the benefits of contemporaneous, shared, in-person experiences and communication, you are still more than likely to also have these common issues affecting your Workplace Experience:
- Distractions in the office eating away at productivity
- Travel costs to employees: stress, time, money and ultimately loyalty
- Other productivity rats: staff have an inability to control their physical environment and they can feel overly monitored
Swapping out the traditional ways of working in favour of greater flexibility solves these problems:
- Distractions are reduced
- Available time increases, travel costs are minimised and a significant proportion of employees consistently say that true flexibility is high on their list of job attributes
- Staff can control their working environment when they work from home and, if all goes well, can feel less monitored and more autonomous. The result, for most individuals, is they increase their productivity.
So the question becomes is improving productivity and enjoying greater staff loyalty more important than contemporaneous, shared, in-person experiences and communication?
As a leader, there is also a question about how much time you think is up your sleeve before you will be forced to move from your traditional 9-to-5-in-the-same-office arrangement. Are you already finding it hard to recruit good people into your skilled positions? Have you lost some of your skilled people because they went elsewhere to find a different Workplace Experience with more flexibility?
A Global Leadership Summit survey found that 59 percent of companies surveyed planned to have more than half their teams working remotely by 2020 but do you see the writing on the wall?
Staff expect that their workplace will keep pace with their personal life, and freedom and flexibility are at an all-time high. Interest in flexible work increased by 42.1% from 2013 to 2015 in nine of twelve countries examined.
Now could be the time to start facing your objections and to start small. If you begin with staggered hours, otherwise known as ‘flextime’, you can start to face these questions on a smaller scale than full-blown flexibility would require.
You can provide staggered hours by giving your staff a window of when they can arrive and leave work, e.g. 7:30am to 11:30am to arrive and 3pm to 7pm to leave. Most employers who do this set core hours in addition to these bandwidths, e.g. 11:30 to 3pm could be your core hours, when, everyone is on deck regardless of start or finish times.
Here is how you could respond to traditional objections, your own included:
- “We can’t do non-traditional ways of working, we have customers calling the office”. Fair enough, do your customers want to speak to you across a broader range of hours? No doubt they would quite like to have someone available to answer their call outside traditional office hours.
- “I don’t want to try to talk to my staff and discover they’re not here.” To that question I would ask do you expect your staff to be at your beck and call every minute? Do you always talk with them in-person and face to face, or could you text or message them and touch base when they’re back in the office?
- “What if the team starts to lose touch with each other?” This is critical – team connection and communication need to be actively managed in teams that don’t meet in-person very often (similar to how they need to be actively managed in teams they do meet in-person very often). Can you get some team practices in place to facilitate joint purpose, camaraderie and collaboration? Are your current communication channels the right ones to give people the option to stay in touch and collaborate without being overwhelmed by notifications?
You could be the boss that has a loyal and productive team. You’ve carefully considered your pay rates so that your team members are recognised but have you neglected the opportunity right in front of you to create a Workplace Experience that is a better fit with modern life?
If you take care of this, even with such a small change as staggered hours, you’ll see a shift in the productivity and loyalty of your team.