Flexible work vs. idiocy

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I read this article on how Gen Z is going to save work over the weekend. Initially I was going to post something about how we need to stop ascribing every “Work shall be saved!” thing to Gen Z and the millennials, because they still broadly have no money, and you need money to change stuff, often. I backed off that stance and I want to discuss something else.

We’ve been talking about this whole remote work / flexible work / work from home / distributed work stuff for years. It always comes up in these bullshit business journalism articles, although it should come up in those articles. Giving people a chance to live their life, as opposed to simply being a slave to KPIs, seems like a pretty noble goal. We’ve ascribed the whole idea of “Work Freedom” as a decidely millennial thing, which is comical to me. Have you ever worked for a Boomer? Half the time on Fridays, they either don’t show up or work until 11am — and after that, they’re basically unreachable until Monday at 10am. This cycle also happens on random Wednesdays, Thursdays, and the like. In fact, right before I got shit-canned at a job a few years ago, I hadn’t seen or heard from my boss in six full days. He was Gen X tho.

OK, so that New York Times article I linked above has a lot of good points in it. Read it. There’s a VP of talent for Salesforce who bites hard on the “Millennials want to be free!” narrative, saying that generation will rewrite the codes of work. Awesome! But then there’s also this elephant in the room…

Hi, elephant

That would be this paragraph:

“When younger workers talk about balance, what they are saying is, ‘I will work hard for you, but I also need a life,’” said Cali Williams Yost, the chief executive and founder of Flex Strategy Group, which helps organizations build flexible work cultures. “Unfortunately, what leaders hear is, ‘I want to work less.’”

That’s the essence of the problem. To most guys still running point at places, when you say “I want flexibility,” they think “He/she wants to work less.” We have been dealing with this issue around new mothers for three generations. Now we’re kinda dealing with it for both genders.

When someone who controls profit/loss hears “flexibility,” their brain works like this →

  • “He/she wants to work less.”
  • “Cool, I will now attempt to pay them less.”
  • “Maybe I can also get them off our insurance.”

Now, not everyone thinks this way. There are some good managers with big hearts in the world. But if your job is to drive productivity up and keep costs down and you take that job very seriously, the above bullets are how you think about “flexible work.” It doesn’t matter if you have employees with young kids or Alzheimer’s-riddled parents. What matters to many is that they look good to their superiors. To do that, you need to get the most for the least out of your people. Capitalism is a great system and the best thing we’ve ever created model-wise, but it’s a boar. It is an animal. You are trying to get most from least. Most managers do this, whether they do it strategically or not. (Most do not do it strategically.)

This is the core of the “flexibility” issue. We need to change the perception of “flexibility” meaning “less work.” Until we can do that, we can’t move the needle here.

So can we do that?

Yes and no.

Yes in the sense that we have tons of research about remote productivity, and tons of corresponding research about how concepts like “open office” are meaningless and less productive.

The problem is, guys that makes decisions at companies don’t really care about research unless it’s analyst research they paid for — and in reality, the actual sentence I meant to type was “Analyst research they underpaid for that says exactly what they already believed about their market.” Academic research is “Ivory Tower Bullshit” to executive guys.

So the path through probably isn’t research.

Instead, I would think it’s about humanizing the need for flexibility. Most decision-makers at a company have a mom, a dad, probably a wife, some kids, some in-laws, and other friends and family. They’ve likely seen hardship and the need to “be present.” They’ve also likely gone golfing on a Friday and done some deals out there. They have an ability to understand that work is not necessarily about the physical office, and that people have lives beyond those walls. So you need to speak to those stories with them, and I think that could be effective.

And because cost still matters a lot, especially if we hit a recession, just casually explain to people that more flexible can eventually mean less cost on real estate, which is a big savings. Dell did this and saved some big money.

Flexible work is similar to most work issues, in that…

… the core of the issue is psychological, but everyone wants to ascribe something else to it. This is the type of shit you will hear in offices about flexible and remote work:

  • “We need better HR policies!” (HR does nothing in most offices.)
  • “We need better communication tools!” (Slack is largely a place people put Beyonce GIFs.)
  • “It’s Industrial Age thinking!” (Right, that’s a psychology issue.)
  • “Our leaders are out of touch!” (Ditto)
  • “Entitled millennials want to watch Netflix all day!” (You think that’s not a psychology issue?)

We can’t solve this stuff until people pull their heads out of their asses. Flexible work arrangements do not mean “less work.” They mean “Find a space for your life and your work, and find the overlap, and manage the world you inhabit as best you can.” It also nods to mobile, Wi-Fi, and the inherent trust in people when you hired them that, you know, maybe here and there they would do the work you are paying them for.

This is more a self-awareness and psychology issue than anything else. Your take?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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