Flexible working is a modern trend that almost all organisations are embracing, but not all of them are completely comfortable with the practice.

Shabby offices a demotivator for staff

I was at a networking event in March, hosted at the London office of a company I know well.  It was a great event and I met loads of new and old friends. I know a lot of people don’t enjoy these kind of events but I have yet to leave one that I haven’t learnt something. Even if it’s just that I won’t attend an event again, You live and learn.

Anyway back to the toilet conversation, it went a bit like this… I commented that the toilets were beautiful and clearly had been refurbished to  a very high standard, the MD of the business said that the staff had complained about the state of the toilets for a while and it was probably overdue. He then said that he hoped that the staff appreciated the expense and quality.

I then cleared my throat and delivered one of my cornerstones (I now have many more than 4 cornerstones, can you have 86? What shape is that?) relating to staff morale that poor toilets, company kitchens, offices will demotivate a worker but beautiful toilets etc won’t motivate them. I was ready to back up this claim with evidence and examples when he said;

“No, that’s not true. I think people get lazy if their office environment is too smart, nice and lovely.”

Really!?!? This can’t be right surely? But like the Iron Lady, I could sense he was not for turning.

Where do you sit on flexible working?

It’s easy to dismiss comments that I vehemently disagree with but as I now know, I try and see his perspective. Why would he think this. Is it simply to avoid expense and hassle or is it genuine belief that you become the social services for the office? I remember someone saying to me early in my career about the famous JFK quote, not the one when he was in Berlin and essentially said he was a hotdog (or was it hamburger) no, this one;

“It isn’t what your country can you do for you, it is what you can do for your country”

I love that because it forms a partnership and stops people waiting to be fed all the time but does that extend to businesses? I think it does and here comes my conflict. I think you need to provide the platform, tools and help for people to perform but at what point do they take some accountability. Whilst I am not sure I expect staff to take responsibility for the toilet refurb, there is an accountability for delivery.

So where do you sit on flexible working? I know people who work for a firm where you have to be in by 8am whilst their contract says 8:30 and you get the quizzical look when you leave at 5:30 (again as it says in their contract) so which is it? I worked for a company for a short time that if you got in on time, you got a slow hand-clap from the people who had got there early. Not great.

Technology making flexible working the norm

Flexible working used to be just for a home emergency where your manager would graciously let you work from home as it filled up with water from a burst pipe. Back then, the tech didn’t really support the experience brilliantly but it has moved on spectacularly.

In our business we use Skype for Business and last week I used Hangouts for the first time (get me !) We regularly use dial-ins for calls and I can be anywhere to make a call as long as I have a mobile or WiFi signal. We can share documents from SharePoint and OneDrive. Its all there.

So how flexible is your mindset? Our workforce work long hours, often anti-social, so we don’t worry too much about clocking in/out but other MDs I know do… a lot.

With more freedom and accountability comes a risk of detachment. I worked remotely for a few months in 2017, after a couple of weeks I really didn’t enjoy the experience and would meet anyone and I mean anyone to get a cup of coffee and a natter. I believe firms are becoming more focused on output and outcomes rather than hours worked but a lot of firms and I suspect my friend from the toilet chat would fall into this category, worry a lot about time spent at your desk.

We hired someone last week who lives 140 miles from our HQ, we did the usual interview… technical, behaviour, hopes and fears around the move but spent an equal amount of time setting a workable solution to keep him engaged, valued and involved. It will take more effort but less than hiring a replacement. I think we have a template to make this set up work.

I think working this way makes people more focused not less and ultimately less stressed. As always let me know your opinions on flex working, changing company attitudes to working hours and practices and anything else I’ve raised.


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