Time to Embrace a Work From Anywhere Culture?

Covid has changed the world.

One of the biggest changes being our office cultures.

The change will be a constant, at least for the next couple of years, until we can find a vaccine or some other solution to allow the free movement of people.

So, as we rethink our office cultures, now is the time to really embrace work-life balance and start thinking about how we move our mindsets from a ‘work from home’ to a ‘work from anywhere’ culture.

How do we embrace true flexible working?

In recent years, much has been said and written, especially with advancement of the gig economy, that the utopia for company cultures will be a truly flexible working environment.

But do we really mean ‘flexible’ in every sense of the word?

  • Flexible hours / days
  • Flexible location
  • Flexible work patterns

As we strive to attract new talent and build inclusive cultures, working parents have driven some flexibility in hours/days, to some degree and we still have a long way to go!

Lockdown proved a great example of this when parents stopped juggling the school run to accommodate home-schooling. The working day became a twilight activity, for some, where parents were snatching time at the beginning and the end of the day to keep up.

This balance wasn’t burden free. Not only were parents managing time, they had to manage their brand in that process.

I know many stories of these multi-tasking parents who felt that the way they were perceived by their colleagues changed as a direct result of the hours/times they worked to survive.

Bias still exists

If we think openly about our office cultures and how our teams feel about their colleagues, bias remains a big part of how we perceive other people.

When we perceive ourselves as hard working, we will have an image of how that is achieved.

If others don’t conform to this image, this affects our perception of them and their work.

Back to the working parents example: how did co-workers feel when they saw their colleagues working those twilight hours? Especially when they saw colleagues ‘freed’ in the lockdown sun? Were those working parents more blessed in their coworkers eyes as they had flexible time during daylight hours to provide childcare and home-school?

Or with those colleagues invisible online — perhaps there was an assumption of reduced productivity?

How did the home-schooling parents feel? Heavily burdened with increased responsibilities and time management or lucky to have flexible employers? Did they feel the unsaid pressure of their peers?

How much of these feelings were influenced by our own bias? Rather than the facts?

The curse of office presentee-ism

We have much to unlearn, especially when it comes to flexible working.

If we just take flexible hours alone — we should be teaching our staff that the output of their work and delivery of the goals is more important than the makeup of the hours.

Over the years, office presentee-ism has taught us (subconsciously in some cases) — that not being in the office results in a reduction in productivity.

And if employee communication is handled badly, promoting flexible hours can promote this loss of productivity too.

Employers must develop a trust-based culture, where output drives the performance conversation, not when and where people work.

Obviously, there will need to be some common sense in this approach. If an employee’s role requires you to talk to customers and they choose to work hours outside of their working hours, this would be problematic.

However, that’s why we have goals and objectives — to keep us honest to our performance.

What about an office on the beach?

So, if we start to think about delivery of outcomes vs presentee-ism — whether office based or online — does it matter where our employees are?

Again, I’ll bring you back to our biases in this scenario:

Joey works for you. Typically, when you speak on zoom, Joey sits in his 5x5' office with a white background.

One day, Joey’s background changes to what you discover to be an Airbnb by the beach.

Joey is still working his normal hours and has chosen to be by the coast for a week. In the evenings, Joey is spending a couple of hours (of his own time), on coastal walks.

The environment has changed for Joey has an opportunity to relax and rejuvenate. However, could this positive change for Joey could be seen as negative by others and make us feel differently about Joey’s work.

Is this appropriate in ‘non-holiday’ time? Is he pushing the boundaries? Is Joey slacking? Still as productive as at home? Do you start to question his work ethics?

Or perhaps you see Joey’s perspective?

Do you feel guilty for trying to get a few hours at the coast in your own time? Do you work harder because of this guilt?

If Joey is productive and delivers to the business, location shouldn’t matter. To avoid feelings of resentment and guilt until we get used to this idea, we may have to ‘give permission’ that flexible locations are good for our wellbeing, as much as flexible hours could be.

Work-life balance & working anywhere

In tech, since the beginning of lockdown, working from home has been seamless and Covid has given us a new opportunity for our working cultures.

We talk a lot about work-life balance and if our teams know they can be flexible with their working hours and locations this will give a new freedom and opportunity to attract talent.

Our teams are more productive when they exercise and can switch off, rather than a crash and burn culture with the annual 2-week holiday.

As long as our employees can set themselves up from any location, working from a beach or just away from home will provide a much needed break from the norm and boost their morale.

Increase in employee wallet?

In addition to employee well-being, flexible locations and hours drive many other benefits for employees and local communities.

With employee locations now flexible, our employee cash can also stretch so much further. Just think about:

  • Reduction in commuting costs — this has been a clear winner for employees in Covid times
  • Cost of housing can be reduced as employees can expand out of city catchment areas
  • Cost of living can be reduced when employees can spend money in local towns and communities, rather than the cities
  • Holiday costs and short breaks will be cheaper as employees can take advantage of holidays outside of peak periods

The FT published a great article on this about how the ‘Pret’ economy now has an opportunity to spread across the country and redistribute wealth into local communities. This benefits the many, rather than the few.

Flexible working & permissions

To achieve this though, in the short term at least, we will need to give our employees the permission to be flexible.

Their own guilt and peer pressures (and biases) could turn a flexible policy into something which drives distrust and becomes a burden to our employees. A flexible working approach cannot be implemented without thought or openly discussing the subject.

In the war on talent, freeing up our employees from space and time constraints will empower them to work to their own energy and productivity patterns.

I appreciate this may sound like a leap of faith, but right now, I am pretty sure our employees would appreciate our leap.

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Executive Coach, Angel & Board Advisor at inspir’ em

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Emma Maslen

Emma Maslen

Executive Coach, Angel & Board Advisor at inspir’ em

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