The false promise of remote working

A fellow writer recently quoted that, according to the Institute of Leadership and Management, 94% of UK organisations apparently now offer staff some form of flexible working, while 73% of managers say that their organization is largely supportive of it.

You are reading an article from the rise of flexible working series, to read more about this you can visit the series homepage.

So, if it is so commonplace, why are we still debating the pros and cons? I believe that whilst 73% of managers say that they are supportive, the reality falls far short of that. It makes me wonder if the leadership and management of companies are really true leaders…or just good controllers?

One of the key achievements in building my career, has been that I know what is going on in my business and am able to take action at the right time. I think I started as being a bit of a control freak, but I realised shortly after becoming a manager of a large number of people, that this way of working was not universally successful – and certainly did not bring out the best in every member of my team.

I also realised that there is a collective dissatisfaction with the way that large businesses operate: rules & regulations that employees feel that they have to bend in order to survive – and if they get found out, result in warnings and disciplinaries. Where widespread flaunting of the rules, usually results in the introduction of yet more rules.

You do not have to see your team to know if they are doing a great job.

But hey, we offer people bonus incentives & pay them a salary, so surely that is enough? Well, no. US scientist, Dan Gilbert, conducted a study that proved that an event (like receiving a bonus) has no impact on a person’s happiness after three months. It creates no more than a blip of happiness (presuming it was satisfactory in the first place).

So what does this have to do with flexible working? I have found that you create a more continuously happy work environment, as well as a more loyal, productive and honest workforce, if you offer a range of options and choices that benefit staff daily. Where and when you work is one important choice. Different ways of working suit different people. Some like the nine to five routine or going into an office. Others loathe the commute and yet others may use a range of alternatives throughout their working week.

This week, my team has worked from home, a coffee shop, a train, a business hub and the office… and we have still closed important deals. 

I did not have to know that Matt was on a train to Newcastle, or that Sarah had the roofing man around to fix a leak. What I did need to know was that the deals were successfully closed and the money was in the bank. The team is rewarded on output – not presenteeism.

So if 94% of organisations offer flexible working, why do so few people actually use it? This is down to the culture of the organisation – and leadership from the top. Does the CEO really support it? DO they proactively use it – and tell people where they are, without offering  justification? Do the managers proactively encourage those staff who want to work from home, to do so? And do managers demonstrate that they do not condone cheesy comments from office based colleagues like “are we interrupting the morning movie”?

Don’t get me wrong – some rules are needed to prevent total anarchy. My team knows that we have a weekly conference call on a Friday. And everyone is expected to dial in. And they do…because they know that they can have the call from their living room, the coffee shop or on the school run. It’s their choice.

Establishing the correct culture is not easy – that is why those organisations that get it right stand out. And as a leader, you need to really empower and trust your team. You need to build an honest environment where communication is paramount, feedback is continuous and two-way.  And where you are brave enough to offer flexibility and choice, it means you do not have to see your team to know if they are doing a great job.

Image from Cea on Flickr

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