Virtual Teams

What are YOU going to do to make flexibility work?

It’s clear that people love flexibility, it helps them manage other commitments, saves them time and money, and gives them more autonomy. Unfortunately, quite a lot of individuals are exercising this autonomy in a largely selfish way, thinking only of their own individual benefit and neglecting the needs of their teams and their organisation. If we don’t find a mutually beneficial arrangement, then hybrid working will fail and organisations will call people back to the office.

If that’s not what you want, then it’s time to start taking your share of the personal responsibility for making it work.

Many of our clients are seeing climate survey results that say people want more and more work flexibility. That’s fine, but at the same time people are saying they want more face-to-face collaboration, more development and more opportunities to connect with their colleagues.

75% say they only want to be in the office for one or two days a week, but 75% also say they still definitely need a dedicated desk for when they do come in.

Managers are caught in the middle between individuals who want ultimate flexibility and senior leaders who are also concerned about maintaining culture, building good relationships inside and between teams, adapting to customer needs and continuing to keep their businesses successful in an increasingly difficult economic climate.

Those of us who have already worked remotely for decades know that all those things can be delivered remotely, but it’s going to take a while for many managers to develop the mindset and skill set to make this work.

Imagine you are manager today trying to schedule an urgent face to face meeting with an important client, having to navigate childcare and other commitments in their team. Both are important in the long term, but in the short term we need to satisfied customers and stay in business.

Hybrid working is a massive experiment at scale around the world. We are optimists about the possibility of hybrid working bringing the best of both worlds by combining face to face and remote working – but only if we build the skills needed and develop a culture that means flexibility goes both ways.

You may have seen articles demanding that employers don’t send emails outside of a fixed 9 to 5 period. Sounds sensible? in fact that’s the end of flexibility. If I can only communicate with you during those hours, then I can’t allow flexibility outside that period. Flexibility has to be mutual, if you want to flex your day around other commitments and choose to catch up in the evening, that’s fine. By the same token then employers should expect some flexibility beyond core hours as well.

This is an experiment, and if you value flexibility, like we do, then it’s very much in your interest to make it work.

When you are having discussions around hybrid working patterns and issues within your team, stop from time to time and ask yourself where the balance of the conversation is; how much are we focusing on individual preferences, team requirements and business issues. If we don’t find a good balance between these three, then the experiment will fail, and most people don’t want that.

Maybe we should take a more radical approach of sharing the risk. I joined a conversation on LinkedIn recently where people were promoting the idea of a four-day week, at the same pay of course.

People were asserting that this would be good for productivity and good for employers, but it’s a huge risk for companies to assume that people will be just as productive in 80% of the time. It might be true, but once you’ve moved your people to a four-day week it will be incredibly hard to move them back again.

People responded by telling me how confident they were that the experiment would work.

I made a radical suggestion, if you are trying to persuade your employer to try a four-day week (or other form of flexibility), then why not offer to share the risk? Agree some productivity measures in advance and test the proposition. If it doesn’t work, then employees could share the risk by taking a salary reduction over the period. if you exceed productivity then maybe there’s a bonus upside as well as the reduced work week.

If you think this is a terrible idea, an outrageous imposition on individuals, then it doesn’t seem you are as confident of success as you may be when there is no risk to you. 😊

The important thing to realise is that this is the same for employers, if there is a downside risk then there is a tendency not to experiment.

If you want more flexible ways of working, we suggest now is the time to shoulder more personal responsibility for making it work for yourself, your team and your organization – a mutual benefit is a shared benefit, and only shared benefits endure.

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