Workplace flexibility was a buzz phrase in the 1980’s as the concept of micro economic reform was implemented by governments of both persuasions. Strictly speaking workplace flexibility is about both the employees and employers agreeing to change when (hours of work), where (location) and how (manner) an employee works to achieve both individual and company goals. It was the precursor to things we take for granted today such as casual labour, working from home, flexi-time, time off in lieu and project work. The goal was to allow employers the ability to scale their workforces to be internationally competitive and employees’ greater freedom and choice with room to innovate. Three decades later, it begs the question; has workplace flexibility been worth the effort?
Let me say up front with as much honesty as I can muster: I was a late convert to the concept of flexibility in the workforce. I was ”educated” by highly respected leaders of both genders from a different era where we were schooled that we should be at work at least half an hour before start and leave an hour after the office closed. Working weekends, while not mandated, was an office norm. Hours of work were long but they were a rite of passage. My background as the son of a farmer who just happened to have the best work ethic out of any person I know, this was not a stretch and was certainly not a shock.
However times have changed from that era. My eyes were first properly opened when my wife re-entered the workforce after having our first son. She returned on a three day per week roster and soon realised that she needed four to do her job. She was (whoops, I should say is) a focused and capable worker who leaves her husband for dead when it comes to work ethic and productivity and before you know it she was back five days a week and I was less than happy. Through the eyes of a husband, I was not happy as we were being stretched in all directions. Now, as an employer, I can see why her employer led her down the path to come back full time. It is such a balancing act and her reduced hours were making it impossible to deliver what he wanted from her.
As a measure of success, hours of work is no longer the key indicator it once was and this took me a long time to realise it. I had earned a bit of a reputation as a clock watching boss (and I am still a proud punctuality nut) and this has meant that we lost people we should never have lost, and were unable to attract people who would have been great for Optimum. My stubbornness and inability to embrace flexibility has cost a great deal of money over the years. While I do sometimes get upset when only a couple of people are still here at 5.00pm, I have come to realise that it is not an issue IF the outcomes and objectives are being met. The key is that; outcomes and objectives, both for the employee and the business must be met. If they aren’t being met, something has to give. For me, the “when” you work is becoming less important as long as the goals are being met.
If someone was to tell me three years ago I would have a team based in Brisbane, Manila, Bali and Perth with business opportunities in North America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, I would have laughed in their face.. However being flexible on the where has been a massive plus.
It has given my business the opportunity to access talent that we could have not ordinarily obtained as well as give people the opportunity to pursue some personal goals that are important to them. There are obvious challenges such as technology and team building however the positives certainly outweigh the negatives when it comes to location.
The manner of which you complete your job is far harder to be flexible than with the “where” and the “when”. You see, invariably, every job has some core fundamentals that must be delivered otherwise there is no way you cannot be successful. In my old company, we referred to them as the “how we do things around here” standards. Now a phrase like that is probably out dated however, every job and every business has some non-negotiables that just cannot be compromised. Successful people in any walk of life put themselves in a position to be successful. They read more. They write more. They train more. They prepare their minds more. They tend to work both harder and smarter. It is a choice and it is a mindset and the standard norms of the manner of work give them direction. However, the challenge is not to stifle innovation. High performing, highly intelligent and creative people tend to seek out continuous improvements in any work situation however they don’t sacrifice the key fundamentals that have made them successful. I heard boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard interviewed recently where he was asked what made Floyd Mayweather so much better than his peers. His answer was simple and succinct; for all of his largesse, he works harder than any other boxer on the planet. He does the simple things over and over and over and trains his body and mind for any challenges that are coming his way. Love or hate Mayweather, it is very hard to disagree with this sentiment.
Flexibility has been with us for a number of years and it is here to stay. For me, the key is to focus on the outcome and objectives. They must always be at the forefront of the mind in the employer/employee relationship. If they are being met, everything else tends to become secondary. When they aren’t, flexibility becomes an issue.
Better go and phone my Bali office…..
Brad McMahon – Managing Director