Work – A Thing or Place?

by | Dec 9, 2019 | Business Management, Professional Growth

“We need to de-parent, de-gender, and de-age the perception of the flexible worker.”
— Cali Williams, CEO Flex+Strategy Group

What if we could work when, how, and where we want?
Work could fit seamlessly into our daily schedule.
Life would be so much easier.

Here is the catch – employee and employer needs are often in conflict.

Children. School. Aging Parents.
24×7 Service. Smartphone. On Site Teams.

The questions become:
When does work begin and end?
• Where should work be done?
• Is work a thing or a place?

As a baby boomer, I grew up in the age where employees were expected to work in a specific office location. You got in your car and went to work. On the way home you decompressed during the commute to be fresh for your other life – home. The dividing line between the two was pretty clear. Work was a place.

Today, work location is no longer a zip code – it is wherever we are.

For most of us, the line between work and home is blurred or nonexistent. We take calls on both our personal and professional phones, remain plugged in on vacation, and find ourselves mentally at work while on the sports field watching our kids. We hear cheers while we are finishing an email, only to realize we have missed our daughter scoring a goal.

Work is a thing.

Thing or place – what does it mean for you? As leaders, we need to realize our work, and those we lead, has taken on an entirely new dimension. We need to reconsider the importance of flexibility.

For years flexible working arrangements were reserved for “high performers” – the select few. Today flexibility requests have become an expectation by many. Workers agree to demonstrate loyalty and share their expertise in exchange for greater control over their work lives – especially time.

Research is uncovering several important themes around workplace flexibility. A recent survey by Leesman found that 40% of office workers believe their office environment prevents them from working productively. Another survey by Harvard Business School and the Boston Consulting Group found the vast majority of employers now realize that employees expect greater flexibility, autonomous work, better work/life balance, and remote working arrangements. The same survey found that only 30% of employers are currently prepared to meet these needs.

It would appear the easy solution is to allow workers to be virtual, resulting in no commute and employers saving money on less office space. Win-win?

The reality is that changing conditions driven by rapidly changing technology, higher customer expectations, and societal trends such as marrying and having children later in life require all of us think about work differently. The answer is that we must work together to make sure flexibility makes sense.

Three keys for leaders to flexibly balance employer and employee needs:

Skimming – Data not People
Skimming data in a report is commonplace when we are busy. People skimming, superficial relationships, is often fatal in the workplace. Effective leaders take the time to connect with their people, to better understand their needs beyond the obvious. Employees asking for flexibility should rarely be a surprise.

De-Parent, De-Gender, & De-Age
We need to be vigilant about checking our biases. For example, research has found that older workers are reluctant to ask for flexibility at the workplace. They worry about perceptions from younger workers that they are becoming obsolete. Parents who request flexibility to meet the needs of their children may face the perception of not being fully committed to their careers. All of us have needs and we should not fear being stigmatized.

Ends v. Means
Our work value needs to reflect what we do – not where we log in, how many hours we logged, or if we are the first one in the office every day. Work is about getting the job done – results over the means. Listening to employee voices on how work is done builds a great workplace.

The intersection of our professional and personal lives is complex. Balancing employer and employee needs leads to trade-offs on where work gets done. Great leaders understand when to be firm (results) and when to be flexible (relationships). I encourage you to get fixed on flexibility.

All My Best,