Stepping Into Flexible Working

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December 10th, 2019

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The idea of flexible working seems great but what are the pitfalls we need to watch out for when planning to go down this route, so take some time to prepare properly. 

The UK’s legislation enables anyone to apply for flexible working arrangements and the organisation is required to treat their request in a reasonable manner. Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs such as working from home or having flexible start and end times. Flexible working arrangements generally led to happier staff and often more productive staff. Employers have often seen these requests as something that has suited the employee more than the organisation, but that attitude has quickly been changing. In fact, in this election the Labour party is promising the right to choose flexible working when starting a new job, putting the onus on the employer to say why a job cannot be done flexibly.  

I recently talked to a director of a large London based organisation who said they were trying to encourage more of their staff to work from home. Given the quality of broadband these days, they could significantly reduce their London footprint and make a massive saving. While that may not be ideal for production staff, most of whom are already relocated outside London, for many of their high skilled technical staff, flexible working could be a viable option potentially becoming the norm in the future  

Similarly, I met a participant on one of my recent programmes, who due to a change in position has been given a more self-managed role, where he is required to work from home a number of days a week. Having been heavily institutionalised over twenty years of his work career, this presents a challenge as he has to reinvent a new routine and change behaviours that have been established over a long period of time. The transition can be difficult but exciting.  

If you are faced with a similar challenge, here are some thoughts that may help you think through the transition.  

Make peace with the concept of workspace: 

The first thing we have to come to terms with that fact that we no longer have a WORKPLACE, it has been traded in for a WORKSPACE. Today with technology, wherever I set my laptop down, is my workspace. It could even be the table in the cafe I use for a the few hours before my next meeting. Your workspace moves with you and travels from your home to the train, your hotdesk, your home office, the kitchen etc. We need to figure out how we arrange our workspace so that it gives us the benefits of a workplace with the absence of a physical building and become comfortable with that.  

Manage yourself better 

Flexible work requires a high level of Self-management and that requires us to have a better sense of self-awareness about our working habits and behaviours. You need to question ourselves about how you would work with greater autonomy and more responsibility without the obvious presence of your manager?  

While there is now a growing body of research that says flexible working reduces stress, especially related to commuting, office politics and frequent interruptions, the home environment has other distractions of their own, including Netflix. It makes it more difficult to separate your family time with a work commitment. So, it’s important to establish boundaries. The advantage of the workspace is that you can relocate yourself to somewhere with less distraction or temptations, such as the local library or increasingly shared spaces where you can hotdesk with people from different organisations 

Maintain the human side: 

One danger with flexible working is that you may lose the human interaction. While virtual communication is great and new technology platforms are only going to get better, the reality is that there is something of the human spirit that just does not translate virtually. The benefits of physical connectivity to our resilience and wellbeing is important. Being social creatures it is important to figure out how within your flexible approach to work, you can maintain that human interaction and connectivity for your own mental health, those precious and valuable interactions you have in the office kitchen with your colleagues.  

Determine your working day:

Finally, in addition to setting boundaries to protect you from distractions, manage your time and energy. Working at home can blur the boundary of a start-time and end-time to the working day. Set yourself a clear work time and plan your work using something simple like Coveys time management techniques. Be disciplined around this.  

Many managers expect staff to be flexible with flexible working, but there is a risk that you could be overburdened because your manager has no clear understanding of your workload and pressures. You could soon find out that your natural downtime at home soon starts to be filled with work. You may need to learn to say no at times and figure out how you can keep people informed about what you are doing. Although the concept of don’t bring your work home has gone out the window, there still needs to be a point at which the workspace needs to be switched off and tucked away in a drawer until the next day. Make sure that this act of shutting down the workspace become part of your daily routine.  

At the end of the day, flexible working is going to be increasingly part of our lives, and we will get much better at living and working in our workspaces rather than workplaces, but until we naturally acquire the habits to do this effectively, it worth having more self-awareness and taking some time to plan this transition.