I’ve been working from home from 1 day a week, to ad hoc up to full time for the last 10 years. Flexibility is something that I have been trying to champion and facilitate in every business I have worked in since learning all about it as an HR concept at university back in 2001-2004 to now. It was something I knew had to fundamentally change in the Australian Workforce given the rapidly evolving environment and most importantly the changing values of our Nation. Probably the most exciting societal changes have been those around our values. In the past, our personal values have suffered at the hand of the businesses we work for and their conflicting values, however as our culture evolves, we see business and personal values coming into greater alignment and our experience of various aspects of our society will help strengthen particular values; in particular the values around family, work life balance, the whole human brain, engagement, happiness, love, authentic purpose and so many more. Flexibility is both a value and means to continue to bring our personal and business values closer together.
There is lots of awesome research out there about the tangible and intangible benefits to employees and employers of flexible work (like this report) that looks at the awesome advantages given advances in technology, new societal values, changing demographics the outcomes of increased productivity, enablement of successful virtual teams, happier customers as people are available 24×7, reduced business travel and reduced carbon emissions as a result, higher engagement, retention of more senior women – the list goes on!
In summary, this awesome article looks at the barriers and enablers:
BARRIER: A Lack of Senior Sponsorship ENABLER: Make a Business Case
BARRIER: A Culture of Presenteeism ENABLER: Promote a Culture of Trust
BARRIER: A Lack of Guidance and Support ENABLER: Create Support Platforms
BARRIER: A Risk-Averse Culture ENABLER: Support Pilots and Experiments
OK, so you know I’m all about flexibility, I love it, I advocate it, I experiment with it whole-heartedly but there is a way to go before the culture, leadership and technology elements evolve to make flexibility and remote working sing. In my experience… here are the pitfalls of flexible working in this day and age:
You have to be extremely disciplined… as in a self starter on steroids.
Working mums, dads, people who own their own business – whatever your motivation for working from home, you have to be a self starter on steroids. There is no-one there to pick you up when you’re down, to encourage you if you’re feeling a bit unmotivated. It is ALL on you. So set yourself deadlines, milestones, things you want to get done each day and do a little happy dance when you knock it off (no-one there to judge you!)
You’re always on.
When you leave the office, even if there is something stressful on your mind, you are still physically leaving the office and there is a physiological change that takes place when you change your environment. Even if you set up a kick ass home office, you will be tempted to just do that extra thing after dinner, because you can and because its there. Refer to point one, extreme discipline required!
It is really lonely.
Again whether you’re at home with kids or home alone, it is REALLY lonely. You don’t see Bob from accounts or the lovely receptionist to compliments your shoes every single day and makes you feel awesome even if you didn’t sleep well. You don’t get to bump into random people who can help you solve your challenges. Having social connections is SO important, my daily coffee at the diplomat keeps me connected to my community and gives me an important dose of caffeine before I get into it!
You’re expected to self manage, all the time.
Everyone sees flexibility as the holy grail of employee benefits and I agree it really is a totally awesome benefit, however you’re expected to self manage – all the time. This is self watering plant to the extreme – as you are also required to source your own water. This is totally awesome if you’re up to it, but if you need an extra dose of support every now and again it needs to be you that asks for it – as the expectation is that you will self manage, all the time.
You miss out on lots and lots of information.
It is up to you how you manage the information flow. I find that connecting with 5-6 people outside of my team and business unit helps manage the information flow and I need to connect with them to make sure I receive it. There is no such thing as the perfect communication system – so you need to create an ecosystem of information that works for you.
The quality of work you produce is expected to be perfect, even if this is a self imposed expectation.
Given the holy grail nature of this benefit, there is always going to be a ‘prove it or lose it’ mentality when it comes to your quality of work. While if you’re face to face and sharing updates as to the perks and pitfalls about what is working and not working about your approach, you can buy time – when you work from home, your work is not as visible, your presenteeism (which speaks volumes in so many organisations) is not reliable, so you have to speak with quality of work – this is your only language! I’m someone who is committed to continually improving my work and obsessing about the quality of the outcome, so this doesn’t worry me – but is something for people to think about!
When technology fails, it is like you’re on an island, by yourself, without Wilson.
This would have to be one of the worst parts. When tech fails, you are all alone, people still expect you to do everything the same and have absolutely no idea how hard it can be to reconnect or get things working again. It can be crippling. When it works, it is awesome, when it doesn’t it can push you back days, weeks even – and you don’t even have Wilson there to entertain you.
You crave off the cuff feedback.
I never realised how much ‘off the cuff’ feedback I received until I worked from home full time. The ‘nice work’, ‘good job’, ‘sounds awesome’ and subtle nodding that just lets you know you’re on the right path. Psychologists say that fewer than 3 days in isolation can cause brain damage (check this awesome episode of MIND FIELD on Isolation out) and it is the subtle interactions that our brain literally craves as stimulation. So it is important to seek this out, send drafts of documents, ask for the little stuff too – to avoid permanent psychological damage – LOL.
There are no boundaries.
As I mentioned above, given you don’t actually ‘leave work’ or ‘switch off’ – there are no boundaries. This can be a good thing, as work gets the most authentic, vulnerable and whole brained version of you (which I think is utterly incredible) – but given the authenticity, given the whole brainedness of this engagement, it means that you personally have different expectations of the engagement. When our boundaries are out, what is the value exchange?
Everyones motivations are different.
So many people think “wow, you’re so lucky” and don’t take the time to truly empathise with the why, the how and the how again. This means you’re constantly managing perceptions and there are SO many different perceptions to manage.
Your office is part of the home ecosystem, dirty nappies and all.
Ok so this is a working mum thing, sometimes I sit down with a 3 hour window to smash out some work, only to get a waft of something… toddler poo. Sometimes you have to jump up and empty the trash before you get down to it, other times you just have to cease the quiet moment and smash through it.
Regardless of the pitfalls, we must experiment with extreme flexibility to flush these out, so that we can refine the model, make it work, make it accessible to anyone who wants or needs it, so that we can continue to evolve as a society and bring our personal and business values to even closer alignment.