Does that title piss you off? Well, it should.
It’s time we change the narrative on “flex-work” and look deeply at what it is, who it benefits, and why it’s possibly the single most important requirement for today’s modern worker.
Let’s be clear, the notion of flexible work is certainly not a crazy new topic. My news feeds are full of research and articles supporting why “flex-work” works. The evidence of its positive effect on the well-being and productivity of both employees and employers is everywhere. In fact, the majority of self-identified modern thinking companies support the notion of flex work and will enthusiastically declare it as a benefit for their employees (I mean, let’s get real here, what company wants the reputation backlash that Marissa Mayer caused when she banned work-from-home policies at Yahoo? None.) Company reputation in this “war-for-talent” era is damn critical for a company.
However, despite all of this, when you really dig into the details of whether or not this practice of flex work actually exists, we find a very different reality. In 2019, I am still hearing my friends talk about their challenges around “convincing” their boss if they can work from home or asking how they might “sell their case” for why they need flexible work between the hours of 3:00 and 7:00pm due to family responsibilities. There is also rampant concern that without facetime in the office they will be viewed as less dedicated and passed over for promotion (ahem, cultures of little or no psychological safety). So, while the benefit and policy framework for flex work may exist within companies, the use of flex work is stigmatized and historically women have suffered more from this because of their link to caregiving responsibilities (see more on caregiving here). Until flexible working can be embedded not just within the policy framework of an organization but within the overall culture (a company’s norms and behaviors) only then will we truly see the positive effects of flexible work take hold.
The “flex-work-is-for-slackers” mentality is a very outdated bias. It stems from the ideal worker theory which is based on the vision of someone totally dedicated to their job, always available and physically present, and willing to go anywhere at the drop of a hat. It’s also no surprise that the ideal worker is usually perceived to be a 1950’s era man who has a wife fulfilling her 20th century gender role of taking care of all the home and childcare needs. Well listen up people, that reality is dead. So let’s eject it from our minds and craft a new vision of what an “ideal worker” looks like.
The 2019 Ideal Worker is a human being that is highly productive, delivers high quality work, is resilient, and trusted by co-workers.
And surprise surprise, guess what the research says when it comes to flexible working? You guessed it.
Flexable Work Generates:
1. Higher Productivity: If we have a flexible work culture, the average productivity of workers increases. 65% of workers are more productive.
2. Higher Work Quality: When employees can have work time out of the office, we see higher quality work because employees are more relaxed and able to create the environment that is most suitable to their work style.
3. Higher Employee Resilience: When employees have opportunities to work from home, they are able to rebuild their stores of resilience and decrease stress caused by our 24/7 work culture.
4. Increased Trust: When we work in the office a lesser amount of time, we tend to prioritize our face-to-face relationships when we are at the office. Research has shown that when people are in the office every day their co-working relationships are not as strong since building face-to-face relationships are less prioritized.
The bottom line is everyone wants and needs flexible work cultures. Even if you are one of the few left that enjoys going into the office every day, a flexible work culture is still a need (gotta leave your desk and run on that personal errand without judgment?) The statistics on this abound. We are human and we need a lot more allowance to be human especially in today’s cultural and technological context which is so centered on the dehumanization of everything. While technology has enabled us “to work from anywhere at anytime”, the flipside of this is that “technology has enabled us to work from anywhere at anytime”. No, that is not an accidental repeat. As employers, the time expectations that we have for our employees (and the time expectations that we put on ourselves as employees) have exceeded reality and we need to get back to human basics. Productivity and quality of work (in concert with good health & well-being) should be the drivers of success, not when or where work gets done. The by-product of this is healthier and happier employees and better co-working relationships which, all in, lead to healthier corporations. To succeed in today’s modern work and life landscape, we must first be human-centric. And, who doesn’t want to be that? (ok. maybe, Siri.)
But for those of you that still need to “convince” your boss or “make a case” for your own use of flexible work, here are some tactics and a little research to back you up.
First, define what flexible working looks like to you and lay this out very carefully. Flexible work has many definitions and it’s important to define your flex-type so that you and your boss are on the same page. This may mean remote, part-time, unconventional hours, or location variety. This report by werk.co will help you define your type and lay the foundation for your discussion.
Second, get a very clear picture on what the reasons are for why your boss is so demanding of your “in- office” time. This is about learning what his or her fears are all about. In this case, the adage “it’s you, not me” applies. So, understanding these aspects are really critical to breaking down your case with the research and abating your boss’s fears. And trust me, the research is there to tackle pretty much any argument or fear that your boss may have. Here is more to help you.
Third, commit as best as possible to your agreed-upon flex-type and flex work boundaries. It’s so easy to fold back into the old ways especially if your corporate culture is less evolved. But find what works and then be rhythmic and deliberate with your agreed upon choice.
Fourth, let the productivity and work quality flow. It will, trust me. And, your life and work integration will thank you.
*Note: A small yet poignant note for employers ~employees without access to flexibility are 2x as likely to report being dissatisfied at work and 50% say they will leave to find a more flexible alternative. And, let’s not get started on gender balance, as flexibility is a woman’s #1 search criteria when looking for a new role. (a study by werk.co)
So, in your process of using your flex work policies more fully, you will also be helping to change the cultural beliefs and outdated narratives on flexible working realities and what “being human” is all about. Recruit your ambassadors, be an advocate, share the research, and do the good work. Not all companies are as evolved as others and these new beliefs and narratives must move in tandem alongside your improved productivity and work quality when flexibility is embraced.
Flex work is NOT for slackers.