Covid has changed the world for many. Both positively and negatively — with one of the biggest changes being our office cultures.
The change will be a constant, at least for the next couple of years, until we can find a vaccine or some other solution, which will allow the free movement of people.
So as we rethink our office cultures, perhaps it’s time to really embrace the work-life balance — and start thinking about how we move our mindsets from a ‘work from home’ to a ‘work from anywhere’ culture.
True flexible working?
In recent years, much has been said and written, especially with advancement of the gig economy, that the utopia for company cultures will be a truly flexible working environment.
But do we really mean ‘flexible’ in every sense of the word?
As we have tried to attract new talent and build inclusive cultures, working parents have driven some flexibility in hours/days, to some degree. But we still have a long way to go.
Lockdown proved a great example of this when parents had to no longer juggle the school run but found themselves juggling home schooling. The working day, for some, became a twilight activity - where parents were snatching time at the beginning and the end of the day to keep up.
And how did they feel during this period? Especially of how others perceived them.
Bias still exists
The last 6 months has been an opportunity for us all to reflect on our biased values as events in US and around the world have given us pause for thought.
Our fight against bias though will be a long journey, which requires us to take as many steps as we can every day.
Which brings me back to the office culture.
How did co-workers feel when they saw their colleagues working those twilight hours? Especially when they saw colleagues ‘freed’ in the lockdown sun? Blessed or did they understand the home schooling/childcare need during the day?
Or perhaps as they didn’t see their colleagues online — perhaps there was an assumption of not working?
How did the home-schooling parents feel? Overloaded or lucky to have flexible employers? Did they feel the pressure of their peers, even though their hours didn’t cross?
I wonder how our feelings were influenced by our own bias? Rather than the facts?
The curse of office presentee-ism
Unfortunately, like all biases, we have much to unlearn, especially when it comes to flexible working.
If we just take flexible hours alone — teaching our staff that the output of their work and delivery of the goals is more important than the makeup of the hours.
Over the years, office presentee-ism has taught us (subconsciously in some cases) — that not being in the office — is not working. Flexible hours continue to teach that when the employee communication is handled badly.
Employers must develop a trust-based culture, where output drives the performance conversation, not when and where people work.
Obviously, there will need to be some common sense in this approach. If your job role requires you to talk to customers and you choose to work hours outside of their working hours, this would be problematic.
However, that’s why we have goals and objectives — to keep us honest to our performance.
What about an office on the beach?
So, if we start to think about delivery of goals and objectives vs presentee-ism — whether office based or online — does it matter where our employees are?
Again, I’ll bring you back to our biases.
Joey works for you. Typically, when you speak on zoom, Joey sits in his 5x5' office with a white background.
One day, Joey’s background changes, to what you discover to be an airbnb by the beach.
Joey is still working the same hours he always has but deciding to not be at his office in London, but by the coast for a week.
Joey works his normal hours but is spending a couple of hours in the evening (in his own time), on coastal walks.
How are you feeling about Joey and his work at this point? Is he pushing the boundaries? Still as productive as normal? Do you start to question his work ethics?
Or perhaps you see Joey’s perspective?
Are you Joey — feeling like you are stealing a few days by the coast and in the end working harder than you normally would, because of the ‘guilt’?
Work-Life Balance and Working Anywhere
In tech, we are blessed that we managed to work from home seamlessly from the beginning and with that, perhaps Covid has given us a new opportunity for our working cultures.
We talk a lot about work-life balance and having our staff know they can be flexible with their hours and location, will give a new freedom and opportunity to attract talent.
Our teams are more productive when they exercise and can switch off daily, rather than a crash and burn culture with the annual 2-week holidays (which we may not be having easily for a while).
Providing our employees can set themselves up from any location, working from a beach or just away from home will provide a break from the norm and boost their morale.
Flexible Working ‘Permissions’
To achieve this though, in the short term at least, we will need to give our employees the permission to be flexible.
Their own guilt and peer pressures (and biases) could make what appears to be a flexible policy to be something which drives distrust and burden on our employees. This type of approach cannot be implemented without thought or openly discussing the subject.
In the war on talent, freeing our employees up from space and time, will empower them to work to their own energy and productivity patterns.
I appreciate this may sound like a leap of faith, but right now, our employees need a few of those.
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