I’ll start with a controversial answer. No, because Flexible Working is not as good of an idea as it sounds on the surface anyway. And before reading on; I often work remotely!
However, I do think it works in some cases, but I also don’t think it works most of the time. This may seem contentious and against the grain of contemporary business philosophy, but in this post, I want to explain why and my reasons probably aren’t those that you are thinking of.
What I consider to be Flexible Working
So that we are on the same page, here is how I define Flexible Working:
I consider flexible, or remote working as you could also call it (slight difference, but for the sake of argument we’ll band them together), to be where an employee who would otherwise be located in an office or single site location in their traditional capacity to instead have flexibility on both their location of work and timing of when they work. This flexibility would be approved by their employer and the employee would have autonomy on where and when they worked. Therefore, I am referring to an arrangement which see’s flexible working as a constant option for the employee.
Even without exploring all of the facts of Flexible Working many studies and statistics indicate that it works very well. I have no doubt that results, if you look for the right statistics, will indeed back this up. But again, my reasons against it probably aren’t what you are thinking of.
Social Media on Flexible Working
Ok. The controversial part. Flexible working in my opinion usually doesn’t work. My issue is that seemingly every Social Media post on the subject is so Pro Flexible Working that it ignores any possible pit-falls. Employee’s like flexible working and Employers are so obsessed with “Employer Branding” that they feel they have to align themselves with forward thinking employee perks and Flexible Working is a major perk.
Almost no-one is giving a balanced perspective on the pro’s and con’s of Flexible Working though. This is where my concerns lay. There is nothing wrong with critical argument. Especially in regards to something that does have valid arguments for both camps. The part I dislike is the overly PC “everyone agree with the moral high ground” approach. It devalues a balanced perspective as there are good reasons for and against things such as Flexible Working.
Where Flexible Working does work
As I say Flexible Working does work occasionally, but I don’t feel it works as a constant arrangement. Before I dive into my reasons of why Flexible Working doesn’t work most of the time, I’d like to elaborate on when I feel that it does work.
One problem that Flexible Working is cited as a solution for is that it can solve talent shortages. If you cannot find a candidate in the area or a relocator it presents you with a problem. But if you have a remote employee it opens up your talent pool. This sounds great. Problem solved. But is it?
It solves a short term problem. If every company who cannot find talent simply sources a remote worker you do indeed open up your pool of potential talent. But it’s not solving the root problem of talent shortages in the first place. Companies that get in ahead of the game when dinosaur firms are still looking for local based people will help themselves today. But not to be Mr Obvious, but everyone is starting to catch on and follow suit and so that advantage will only last so long. And once all of your competition catch on you’ll just have more competition for your remote workers. From a companies perspective it’s a solution that will only work for so long if that’s the problem that you are trying to solve.
The root issue for me is the lack of training and development as this is what has caused the talent shortages we find ourselves in. Remote working will encourage firms to find other people elsewhere who can do the job they need done now rather than trying to train local people. Shoot me down in flames if you like, but are we not already in a talent shortage situation? This will solve the problem of sourcing talent short term for employers, but it’s only going to exacerbate the talent shortages we are experiencing now over time. Why would companies offer training to local people if they can source someone who can do the job now remotely? Visualise this situation 10 years from now.
As an employee and as an employer I have always believed that good people need to know that they are valued. The best people I have ever worked for wanted me to know that. And when it came down to it, they’d hold their word on it. I’ll never forget that on the birth of my first daughter, one of my old bosses dropped everything to drive me to the hospital and came back to drive me home in the wee hours of the morning despite that he lived over an hour away. He didn’t need to, but he did it anyway because he felt that it mattered. It was important. Yet, he never mentioned it to anyone else. He didn’t want anything for it. It was just the right thing to do he felt. Even today, I will always remember how thankful I was.
When it Matters
And that is the key part. Flexible Working is for when it matters. It shouldn’t be as an Employment Perk to attract people or as a policy. That is just contrived. It shouldn’t be something that the boss needs a favour for in return. Where is the authenticity in that? It should be on a human level when a good employee who does their best for their firm needs a bit of time when they need it. That’s just common sense and good values.
The Extremes of Flexible Working
Flexible Working, from the posts I see promoting it, seems to be more about a lifestyle choice rather than an occasional need. If you’ve ever read a book called “The 4 Hour Work Week”, it deals with the subject in depth. But for me Flexible Working being a norm is an extreme.
Any argument against Flexible Working is seen as archaic, primitive, outdated thinking etc. But my reasons aren’t anything to do with the traditional arguments. Traditional arguments seem to be that it loses control for the employer and that the employees will slack off. In my opinion if you hire good people you should trust them. But my arguments against Flexible Working aren’t anything to do with trust. I know employers in recruitment who don’t want to mention it to staff because it wouldn’t be good “Employee Engagement”, but who secretly disapprove of Flexible Working. And most of the time it does come down to a lack of trust.
X & Y
The traditional X Theory Manager, if you are familiar with McGregors X Y theory, is one who thinks the worst of their employee’s. They are of the “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” mentality. Where as Y Managers are the opposite. “Give trust and you will receive it” etc.
The limitation of this theory is that X is seen as bad and Y is seen as good when in reality it depends on the individual circumstances. For example, if someone keeps being late and promises not to do it again you could be forgiven for being dubious. But if someone else who’s never been late in three years is late and they promise it won’t happen again, I’d be more inclined to believe them. It’s just common sense.
Why is Flexible Working an extreme?
Work itself, in my opinion, gets a bad press if you are going by contemporary thinking. For example, companies just in the recruitment industry hark on about all of the benefits that they offer; an endless list of perks. It’s to such a degree that if you took the perks away most of the people would leave. If you are thinking “yeah, so what’s your point”, what does that say about the job that you are doing in the first place? If the job itself is that bad that without the perks you’d want to leave, then it’s the perks that are why you are there rather than the job itself.
Why is it then that so many social media posts bang on about how much someone loves their job? That when they return from holiday that they cannot wait to get back to work? That they are living the dream. It’s not the job they love, it’s the lifestyle. If the perks were taken away, how many people would stay doing the job? Not many I’d argue.
Maybe I am alone here, but I actually like the job of being in recruitment itself. Not that I’d want to of course, but if I didn’t have a choice, I’d probably take half the money as I actually really enjoy my job. Genuinely. I can’t put my finger on exactly every element of why I like it. I just do.
A Dream Job
Most people inadvertently go through life disliking work. Therefore, understandably if given the opportunity to spend time away from work they’ll take it.
But what if it doesn’t have to be that way? Imagine if you had a job you actually enjoyed. And I’m not talking about the lifestyle. I mean the work itself. Like me you might actually enjoy the work itself, but it’s something else that stops it being enjoyable. I’ll come on to that in a moment though.
What’s the problem with Flexible Working then?
I’ve worked in an office and I’ve worked from home. Also, I’ve worked on the road and I’ve worked with flexibility. I’ve been a boss and I’ve been an employee. It is fair to say, I’ve seen both sides of all of the coins.
The problem for me is that the good parts of flexible working tend to be more about being away from the office. Why? When you think about it what is the issue with the office? Take a moment. Really think about it.
If you are really honest with yourself it’s probably to do with the people you work with. Or at the very least one or two of them. If we want to be blunt about it, you’d probably rather stick pins in your eyes than listen to them or see their wretched face. You’re imagining their face now aren’t you? Most people you probably like or don’t mind, but that one, two or small group. Grrr. They get your blood boiling. And that’s the root issue in most cases of why you don’t want to be there.
A Better Solution
If you are good at your job, can be trusted and need some flexibility take some time within reason to be flexible. There is no problem with that. But if you want flexible working because you don’t like that one or two people you work with, go and find another job. Find somewhere, and they do exist, who actually give a damn about creating an environment of like minded people who have common values. Don’t seek perks such as Flexible Working, seek an environment and work itself you enjoy being part of and doing.
If you employ people for their experience, you’ll get people who in truth don’t want to spend time in the office. But just imagine if you work in an office with people where you like all of them. Where you value them and they value you. Friends who have the same morals as you. Colleagues who have your back. A boss who trusts you that when on those occasions you need some time, it’s not a problem. And a place that you actually feel at home in. Somewhere you feel comfortable and you can be yourself within.
A Good Employer
That is what a good employer is; one which is firstly interested in the environment that their people work in. What is important to them is being responsible for providing good people with a good environment. A place to feel at home and valued in as part of the club. One of them.
Perks such as Flexible Working are in too many cases nothing more than part of a companies “Employer Branding” strategy. There is no authenticity or human value in it. That is my issue. Advertising Flexible Working, which is something that is good human nature as being a work place perk is like promoting your thank you policy by holding some awards ceremony and then promoting it all over social media…Oh hang on. That’s been done hasn’t it.
The Human Element
When you are valued, you are so because those who value you give a damn about you. Not about promoting themselves, or their brand or their company. Flexible Working, where you spend too much time away from the office and your colleagues stops human relationships being built. Sure, if you need time away here and there it’s fine, but nothing replaces that being part of a group of people you enjoy being around.
If you don’t feel the same way, and you’d rather be away from the office consider why you feel that way in the first place. If you want Flexible Working because you don’t want to go to the office, it must be a sorry place to work. But Flexible Working should be an occasional thing that you have when you need it, not because you’d rather not spend time with the people you work with.
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