Written before flexible work schedules, and now we’re going to continue said trend with flexible work arrangements. As long as I’ve had jobs, I’ve almost never understood how companies approach this topic. Let’s just run down a few issues around flexible work arrangements.
- The term essentially means a similar thing as ‘work-life balance,’ and that’s actually a strategic advantage if you do it properly
- Four-day work weeks, a legit form of flexible work arrangements, have been shown to increase employee morale
- The entire notion of most offices is extremely confined. It’s not just the physical space, but it’s the idea that you can only be creative between 8am and 6pm. If you’re a person who gets bursts of creativity at 3am and fires off the world’s greatest e-mail, everyone will just ignore it in their crush of regular morning e-mails.
Every article about flexible work arrangements starts with some variation of this sentence: “… in today’s increasingly competitive business climate, employers need every hiring advantage…”
That’s true, and it’s also reams upon reams of bullshit. Employers don’t need “every hiring advantage.” They need to think logically about why their hiring process is so bad, then fix the cracks of subjectivity all over it. That’s Step 1. Step 2 is to figure out how to use technology within it, and Step 3 is to stop middle managers from bellowing about how much headcount they need.
If you take care of those three areas, good. That’s a nice start. Now we can begin discussing flexible work arrangements.
Flexible work arrangements: Why this matters
We can keep this one fairly simple. People have friends. They have families. They want to see those people, not just Bob from Cubicle Land. Work-life balance has mostly become a buzzword over the last decade. It is possible to set up flexible work arrangements, though.
Second tier of why it matters: research. We deify the workaholic, yes, but research consistently shows 55 hours of work/week is a hard ceiling. Most people claim to ‘always be working’ and ‘putting in 85 this week, Tom!’ but that’s mostly chest-pounding bullshit.
Work is about hitting tasks, developing some good relationships, getting paid, and going home. That’s it. If it happens between 9am and 3pm or 8am and 6pm or 3am and 10am? Does. Not. Matter.
Flexible work arrangements: What prohibits it
If you work in a priority vacuum but you’re still a manager, you have this belief that, well, you need to be managing something. But because you don’t understand your priorities, you probably can’t manage someone else’s. So the easiest thing to do is make them sit near you (or check in with you) for prolonged periods of time. To many people, that’s all “management” means. It doesn’t mean “helping someone” or “guiding someone.” It means “I know where they are at this moment, so I am a good manager.” This is one of the horse-crap methodologies tied to conventional management training.
So in essence, bad management based on confused priorities creates a lack of flexible work arrangements.
Flexible work arrangements: Hiring and trust
IMHO, the hiring process is rooted in trust. The company says “We will part with some of our money and give it to you in exchange for tasks.” The employee says, “I will do those tasks to the best of my ability.” Trust on both sides, yes?
If you hand someone $65,000 and a side of trust, why can’t they have some flexible work arrangements? What matters is the work getting done. It doesn’t matter where or when it gets done. Right?
By removing flexible work arrangements from an employee’s life, you basically poke a hole in the trust balloon of his/her employment. This probably shouldn’t surprise us.
Flexible work arrangements: Research and best practices!
In a new article on Harvard Business Review, MIT talks about how they increased flexible work arrangements. They set up a system that included the following principles:
- Everyone is encouraged to work remotely at least two to three days per week
- Wednesdays are our “work in the office if you physically can” days
- You don’t need to work a strict 9-to-5 schedule, but be mindful of regular business hours and don’t expect others to match your unique working hours
- Don’t feel that you need to be connected 24/7
To the results!
Our flex-time program also delivers financial gain for us in the form of increased productivity, regardless of the weather. This past winter in the Boston area was not very bad, but the previous winter saw record-breaking snowfall. Employees of organizations that required them to be on-site suffered from weather-related commuting issues, resulting in late or absent employees. Our team members were able to put in full, productive days from their homes, without the stress of driving in the snow or having to take delayed mass transit options.
Flexible work arrangements and the target-pounding executive
A target-chasing boss would look at the above pull quote and say “Gah! That’s not bottom-line growth!” As a result, he/she (likely he) would ignore the idea and go back to ‘classic management principles.’ That’s the biggest problem with most ‘flexible’ issues or ‘engagement’ issues. The way you measure them? Fluffy. Executives don’t want fluffy. They want row D56 to say “We made $12B this quarter.” It’s that simple.
That’s where flexible work arrangements tend to die. The other cemetery for them is “Flex schedules? No! I need my people hitting deliverables for me!” Sadly, the world has many of those managers.
Flexible work arrangements and … let’s go back to trust
Cue up the MIT study on Harvard Business Review:
Perhaps most surprising is how our flex-time program has impacted employee trust. When first launching the program, I hadn’t thought of how the program communicates the trust we have for our staff. We trust our people to be professionals and understand what needs to be done, regardless of where they work. It’s easy to forget how traditional work practices like required office hours can often come off as a lack of trust for employees’ ability to get the job done. When surveying our staff, 62% recorded an improved feeling of trust and respect. Based on this stat alone, it’s clear to me that people who feel trusted will get their work done efficiently while improving overall morale and company culture.
Why is that important? Because any discussion about ‘the future of work’ is really just about respect.
The bottom line on flexible work arrangements
They can work. Some people will get flexible work arrangements and try to skate on every task, yes. What now?!?! Simple: you, as the employer, fire that person. Done and done. Others, however, will get flexible work arrangements and excel. They will be more productive and better employees. Why? Because you’re trusting them, respecting them, and treating them like adults. Isn’t that what most of us want from work ultimately?
My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.