Workplace Flexibility Success

When I launched MacroEdgo in November 2019 I had already developed a great deal of material to upload as I developed my readership. Some pieces were nearly complete, while some were just notes on a specific post topic.

I listed management issues as one topic that I would write on, and prior to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, I posted two related posts in “The Authenticity Piece for Leadership Is Right In My Wheelhouse” and “Quotas Are Necessary To Address Workplace Diversity“.

I had developed notes on another post which I had entitled “The Underrated Benefits of Flexible Work Conditions”. I never got to go beyond my notes for that post as the COVID-19 pandemic quickly consumed my writing assignments, but I wish I had given how things have played out in workplaces due to measures to counteract the pandemic.

These are my notes as they stood at the time of the MacroEdgo launch:

  • talk about experience of [my wife] – on the few occasions when she works from home (eg when I am unwell and unable to carry out my usual stay at home Dad responsibilities) she gets up and turns on her computer, has a cuppa and around the time that she would normally begin getting dressed for work she reads emails and begins working and she normally finishes around the time she arrives home after work… so she devotes around the same amount of time to work as usual, except that the time spent preparing and travelling to and from work is mostly given to her work… but the family is happier because she is nearby all day rather than being out of the house for 11 hours each work day… she is relaxed because she is home and can go to our kitchen and grab a snack as she likes… she can cook a nice lunch if she likes… she can be more involved with the kids’ routines if she needs to or if she chooses after all she is doing way more hours than normally…
  • I realised the value of flexible working at uni where I basically worked for myself… if I made a discovery, eg found a new virus, I worked almost continuously until I had filled out my research and sent a paper to a journal… but after a week or two of intense work, I would not go to uni for a week… I just sat at home and watched TV and unwound, and built up my energy to get back into my normal routine… I finished my PhD with 8 peer-reviewed papers which is considered by most a prolific effort…
  • Essentially, I worked hardest when I was most passionate and that was when I produced my best work… everybody suffers the mid-PhD blues and that is when we must be disciplined and stick to routine to keep grinding out the work… but if we must always do a set number of hours every week regardless of what we are doing, then the periods of stimulation tend to lessen and the whole lot of it can become drudgery…
  • I realised the folly of the need to “be seen to be working” through the experiences of an Australian colleague who did a Postdoc in Japan and then Korea… He described to me his work week – working at a university in Tokyo, on a usual Postdoc subsistence-like income, he could not afford to live a short travelling time from the uni… He travelled in to uni every Monday morning leaving 4 am for a 1.5 hr bullet train trip to uni… in Japan people must be at work before their boss, and with a lot of hierarchy in their organisations, and with the strong work ethic and long hours of those even at the top of the hierarchy, postdocs and PhD students needed to be at the department by 5.30 am to unsure that they were there before their bosses/supervisors, and they would not be able to leave until at least 9 pm… They also worked Saturday mornings… so my colleague was at the Department from early Monday morning through to Saturday lunch time, and only was at his apartment from Saturday afternoon to 4 am Monday morning… when I asked him how he managed to work under those conditions, he simply said that they were not necessarily required to work all of the time while at uni – and most would need to sleep with their heads on their desks during the day – he just had to physically be seen to be there while his boss was there… I personally witnessed this culture at conferences where the Japanese academic would be followed by his entourage of students – like a brood of ducklings following their parents, they would follow them out of the auditorium and if they stopped to chat with a colleague the ducklings would just mill around behind them quietly chatting or looking at the ground until the professor was ready to move on… my colleague said that in many ways things were even more strict in South Korea… I honestly don’t know how he did it!
  • of course what all of this says is that it is the output that is what is really important, not the hours or even effort put into that output
  • for example, if someone is able to work more efficiently (smarter) and produce the same volume of output at the same (or better) standard as another who works 50% longer hours, who really is the better worker?? And if a workplace experiences a crisis where everybody must take on 50% higher workload to deal with it, is it realistic that someone doing 60 hrs can increase even temporarily to 90 hrs per week??
  • Is it fair to say that a lot of what is put down to hierarchy is really about ego of the manager… and tendency towards sociopathy/psychopathy… link in my Leadership post…??
  • a manager’s role is to evaluate output… a manager that must always see that somebody is working to evaluate that output is not really a manager… they are admitting that they are incapable of evaluating somebody’s real performance so must use a very physical metric of hours spent at work…
  • flexibility in work conditions, and especially on working from home, is a frontier that promises significant benefits for the employer (more motivated workers and higher productivity, and greater capacity to deal with challenges) as well as the employee (better work life balance and mental health, and potential cost savings in professional clothing and travel)… If embraced widely this could lead to significant benefits to the environment with the removal of single-passenger vehicles and lower demand on public transport…

Since writing these notes the world has changed, and nowhere more than in the white collar workplace. Quite remarkably the entire developed world has almost instantaneously taken up the opportunity that technology provides to have most of or their entire workforce working from home.

Rather gratifying for myself, employees have embraced it and employers have quickly realised essentially what was in my notes, and additionally realised other significant benefits.

Nearly every executive that I have seen discussing this issue on the Business media is overwhelmingly positive about the development. Undoubtedly most are pleased that their employees are happy with the arrangement, though many are equally excited about the potential cost savings as well as realising that their workers are more productive.

When the COVID-19 pandemic eases and employees feel safe to emerge from their safe bubbles, I am certain that some workers that could conceivably work entirely from home will decide to spend some time in the office for social benefits. However, I would suggest that white collar workplaces will never be as they were in early 2020, and I believe that very few employees, especially those with families, given a choice of workplace flexibility will turn down the opportunity to work at least part of their routine hours in their home.

Equally I am certain that this will continue to be a great benefit to employers as well as employees and their families.


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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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