I’ve been thinking about flexibility at work a lot lately for two reasons.
I’ve been working on a project for women who leave and then return from maternity leave. In reading through research, it argues the importance of talking the talk AND being able to walk the walk when it comes to workplace flexibility. You can’t just have the policies in place; employees need real access to things like flexible work hours, part-time or job share arrangements, and the ability to work from home. In Australia, Government agencies and some private companies have the policies in place and promote these, but when it comes down to it, many managers still feel like they need to physically see their employees in front of them in order to manage them.
Secondly, at my work, I have a lot of flexibility. We are readily available to use flex time, I am a morning person so I get in early and leave early, and the rest of my team (including my manager) are in Melbourne so they rarely actually see me. This is important to me because it suits the house that my brain works best, and I’m at my most creative. Nothing productive gets done for me after 6pm!
Despite working remotely from my team, I have solid relationships with all of them, and have been able to establish great relationships with other HR people that are located close to me in Sydney. I feel like we’re a great team, even though we don’t physically go to morning tea together or talk about things in person.
In contrast, my boyfriend works in another organisation, where he’s expected to be there from 8:30am to around 6pm no matter what happens. So if he has to stay back until 9pm to get something finished for a client that’s what he has to do. He can’t then come in late the next day or finish early another day- he’s still expected to do the standard day no matter what- even if he’s finished all his work.
This just doesn’t make any sense to me at all and I know that it makes people’s lives difficult and has the potential to make the workforce less engaged because instead of being focussed at work, your mind is wandering thinking about things you need to do or where else you need to be. It also creates transport issues with everyone on the roads, trains or busses at the same time trying to get to work.
As long as you are doing the work- why does it matter where you are or when you do it?
Obviously there are exceptions to this. There are times when you need to be in the office physically, and some roles need to be present at the workplace but there are a lot of companies who need to really think about allowing more flexibility otherwise they will lose top talent who choose to move somewhere that does offer it. This is particularly important for Gen Y who get a taste for it and can’t go back (myself included!). It would make me miserable to take a job in a company where I was expected to be in the workplace 9-5 Mon-Fri even if I wasn’t actually doing anything productive.
This then brings me to ROWE- which is a term which stands for results-only working environment. It means that each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. It empowers people and this strategy has been met with great success by a company in the U.S. called ‘Best Buy’ which was able to increase productivity in the headquarters by a massive 41% while decreasing voluntary turnover by almost 90%. Amazing stuff.
Want to learn more? Take a look at “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: No Schedules, No Meetings, No Joke–the Simple Change That Can Make Your Job Terrific” which was written by one of the people at Best Buy who implemented ROWE.
Check out the ‘Four Hour Work Week’ (I love this blog), this article in the New York Times, or listen to an awesome podcast by Chris Ferdinandi of Renegade HR who interviews Ashley Acker of http://workstyledesign.com/ about ROWE.