I saw a plea on LinkedIn recently by one of my connections, asking that ‘If we don’t really mean it when we offer flexible working, please can we stop offering it at all?’.
It got me thinking about the relationship business currently has to flexible working. On the one hand, it feels like the notion is fully in residence across the majority of industries. Yet perhaps there’s an ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ aspect to it all. I mean, we’re all talking about flexible working, about the inevitability of it and the benefits of embracing it. We probably already offer it. But do we actually believe in what we’re saying? And – to echo my LinkedIn connection – if we do offer it, do we actually follow through with that promise?
If not, what’s stopping us? Is it that deep down we don’t think as much work gets done? Do we not trust our teams? Does a part of us feel the need to keep close (visual) tabs on them?
If any of the above rings true, then it’s time we took a hard look at ourselves as leaders. It could be that we’re not defining the work well enough. If the work is well defined, well weighted and fairly distributed, then we don’t need to keep tabs on our teams’ hours. Keeping tabs on their output should be what counts.
At the same time, let’s be honest about what can happen. People might do shorter hours. They might go offline without forewarning. Dial-in meetings and hangouts can be glitchy.
But your role as a leader is not to enforce time restraints and dictate your team’s schedule. The working day is not a vessel to be filled (and if your team does not fill it, they’re not necessarily somehow shortchanging you). It’s on you to define the team’s goals so well that you don’t need to fall back on crude checks of their use of time. You’re not buying their time; you’re buying their work. It’s about output, not presenteeism.