Category Archives: Flexible Work

Call for Predictability as a form of Flexibility at Work

This is a compelling story from the New York Times on how new shift scheduling technology (and corporate desire for higher profits) affects lower-level employees and their ability to meet demands outside of work.

Working Anything But 9-5: Scheduling Technology Leaves Low-Income Parents with Hours of Chaos

Please comment on your own experiences and suggestions for improvement.  Clearly, flexibility and even predictability are critical to employees.  They are fellow human beings, after all.

Why It Is Important to Take Vacation

fete de la musique
Musicians play on the streets of Paris at Fete de la Musique
coupe de monde
World Cup fans outside my window at 2:00 a.m.

By Joanie Connell

Taking two weeks off in itself is a great way to gain perspective on life. Traveling to another country is even better. I just returned from two weeks in Paris. During those two weeks I experienced a very different way of life. I was kept up till all hours of the night by the Fête de la Musique, an all-night music festival that takes place on the streets of Paris. I lost sleep because the fans of the World Cup celebrated on the streets too, by driving around with their horns on at 2:00 in the morning. During daylight hours, I was slowed down by traffic that was gridlocked due to protest marches and demonstrations and by strikes that delayed trains and planes coming in and out of Paris

None of that bothered me. Rather, I found it curiously intriguing. What bothered me–at least at first–was spending over a week without WiFi. The router in our apartment broke and the landlord didn’t seem to understand the urgency around fixing it promptly. I was planning to work while on vacation and was shut down. Public WiFi was no option. In France, free WiFi tends to be so slow it is unusable except for email—another curiosity. The French just don’t seem to have the same need for speed that Americans do.

What was I to do? Well, how about enjoy my vacation! I gave up worrying about work. I didn’t blog for two weeks. I stayed off Face Book and I hardly emailed. Rather, I immersed myself into French culture and leisure.

A funny thing happened. In more than one conversation, French people asked me why I was only on vacation for two weeks. They asked what else I would do during the summer for the rest of my vacation. I kept having to explain that this was my summer vacation and that I would be returning to work when I got home and that I was fortunate to be able to travel for two weeks because many Americans don’t have that kind of time. Now it was their turn to find my culture curiously intriguing.

Even if we only have 2 weeks of vacation per year, as compared to their typical 2 months of vacation, it makes all the difference in the world to get away from work for a while. It gives you perspective. Realizing that you’re dispensable, that the daily crisis at work really isn’t urgent or earth shattering, and that life has so much more to offer than work is truly important. Taking vacation helps to broaden your perspective and refocus your priorities in life.

As a consultant, I get an external perspective of companies. More often than not, I feel the office tension as I walk in. I see the desperate looks on executives’ faces as they try to do what they think the president wants. If the president decides he/she wants X, the executives send their teams into a frenzy to deliver X2. The executives advise me on what words to use or not use to appeal to the president’s idiosyncrasies. They demand that I turn in work proposals immediately and be available to perform without delay. They expect me to work after hours and on weekends like they do. I’ve learned my lesson because, when I do, they change their minds or the president isn’t available to look at it or the project gets canceled or something like that. We have all rushed around with elevated heart rates and stress levels for no real reason.

vacationEvery time I return from vacation, I gain perspective and vow not to get sucked into this lifestyle when I return. Sometimes I succeed. If more of us took time out to relax and gain perspective, we would probably be much less stressed at work. I highly recommend giving it a try. If anything, you’ll be less stressed for a while. If it catches on, we might make the workplace a better place for all of us.

Flexible Work Improves Employee Engagement

By Joanie Connell

surprisedA scary trend is emerging for companies to ban flexible work. Don’t do it. As explained in last week’s post about following along the fads without thinking, this is a bad idea.

The workplace is changing whether we like it or not. That is a constant. The workplace isn’t like it was and it won’t be like it is. The workplace requires our flexibility to keep up.

Why is this important? Because flexible work is inherent in today’s workplace. Some companies are trying to fight it, like Yahoo and Oracle, who have both recently implemented policies that ban working from home during business hours. This is a huge mistake.

working at homeWorkplace flexibility increases employee engagement. According to a recent Gallup study, remote workers are more engaged than on-site employees, and they work more hours too. The study found that a blend of working remotely and working on-site produces the greatest amount of employee engagement.

Those who spend less than 20% of their time working remotely are the most engaged… These employees likely enjoy an ideal balance of both worlds — the opportunities for collaboration and camaraderie with coworkers at the office and the relative sense of freedom that comes from working remotely… [T]hose who spend more than half of their time or all of their time working remotely have similar engagement to employees who do not work remotely.

On a more intuitive level, think about how the flexibility to work remotely has helped you and your organization. For example, how many people call in sick anymore? More often, they work at home when they are sick instead of taking the day off. Keeping the germs out of the office saves the whole team from getting it. People also increasingly work while on vacation. I don’t advocate this practice in general because I firmly believe that people need to take breaks, but if they are managing to balance their lives in this way, I support them.

When I was a professor and I had a baby, I made a point to spend time with my baby during the day when I could and work in the evenings and on weekends preparing my classes. Instead of 9-5, 5 days a week, I worked 7 days a week at various times. It was a great solution for me at the time and I was very effective at work. For example, my students loved it that I responded to their emails at night and on Saturday.

Now that my daughter is older, I still work flexibly but do other things, like exercise or meet a friend for coffee during the day. I still spread my work around at night and over the weekend because that suits me well. I mention this to make the point that flexibility is not only about family. People take advantage of flexible work to do many things, like go to the doctor’s and participate in hobbies. In San Diego, surfing is a way of life and there are numerous professionals who structure their work hours around the waves. I don’t know how good these folks are at surfing, but the ones I know are very effective at work.

Even if companies fight it, workplace flexibility is not going to go away. Technology has made it possible, global companies require it, and younger generations of workers expect it. Companies typically have two concerns about flexible work: (1) lack of control and (2) difficulty establishing a company culture. Both of these obstacles can be overcome with modern methods of managing and leading people. What these companies need to learn is that the workplace requires flexibility to keep up.  It’s better to embrace it than to fight it.

Stop and Think

by Joanie Connell

stop and thinkThe downside of operating at lightning speed is that we don’t have time to reflect on what we’re doing. We respond to challenges with knee-jerk reactions and leap onto the bandwagon without ever stopping to question whether this is the right way to go. We think it is right because everybody else is doing it and we don’t want to get left behind.

In today’s world, we are all under an enormous amount of pressure to do things quickly. We need to keep up with minute-by-minute stock prices, what is “trending now” on social media, whose kid is participating in the most extra-curriculars, which traffic lane is going the fastest, and what emails are already stacked up in our inboxes. It’s exhausting! Yet, we don’t stop. We keep running faster and faster, managing more and more information.overwhelmed

Ironically, the need for speed is slowing us down. Really. It. Is.

How could that possibly be? It is because we aren’t taking time to stop and think. When we run at full speed, we make careless mistakes. When we do too many things at once, we make haphazard decisions. When we feel pressure to keep up, we mindlessly follow the pack. If we don’t take time to stop and think, we may end up losing the race—remember the tortoise and the hare—and trampling others along the way.

CARELESS MISTAKES

Typos, bugs, and safety recalls are often caused by careless mistakes. We are racing to meet deadlines, under pressure to get torace car print or to market quickly, and we work fast without checking it over. Careless mistakes cost us time and money. For example, the most common reason for the IRS to reject an income tax return is because of a careless mistake, like the person forgot to sign the form. A rejection is usually accompanied by a fine. Thus, slowing down to proofread your tax form could speed things up and save you money.

As much as we like to think that we are good at multitasking, the evidence is to the contrary, especially when it comes to complex tasks. Of course, doing a load of laundry while you are washing the dishes is fairly benign (unless you forget about the laundry). Texting while driving is not. At work, we read email during meetings and wonder why our meetings are so ineffective. At home, we do our homework while instant messaging. It’s hard to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. You can shift back and forth, but even then you may lose time reintegrating yourself into each task. Often, completing a task before you move to another can save you time.

CROWD MENTALITY

Much of our world is online and crowd driven. Add time pressures to the mix and we end up with impulsive, irrational decisions that are made carelessly, without contemplation. Stock market crashes, fads, and riots are caused by a crowd mentality. We lose ourselves in the presence of a crowd. It’s called “deindividuation” in social crowdpsychological terms. When we get caught up in the excitement and momentum of a crowd, we lose our judgment and do things we wouldn’t normally do on our own. Riots after sporting events are a good example. Most sports fans would not smash car windows and set fire to things on their own, but when they get caught up in the post-game fury of a stadium full of fans, they can find themselves doing extreme things. The same is true in business.

Online interactions have a similar effect. People deindividuate when they are online. For example we’ve all seen people post comments on blogs or send emails that they would never say in person. We feel less personally accountable online, similar to when we are in a crowd. And what are we doing online? Creating crowds! People these days define their value by their numbers of followers, friends, likes and retweets. The news reports on what is “trending now” on social media to acknowledge what the largest numbers of people are doing and saying. It may be “trending” but it doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

SOCIAL COMPARISON

People feel better about themselves when they are better than someone else. When you get a B on a test, you feel better when you find out someone else got a C. Social comparison is a way to feel better about yourself by thinking or saying negative things about other people. Gossiping is the quintessential example.

The flip side of putting others down to make ourselves feel good is to compete with others to do better. To feel good, we want to outdo our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, FB friends, and Tcompetitionwitter followers. For example, if my friend is taking 4 AP classes, I should take 5. If the competitor is decreasing costs by 5%, we should decrease by 10%. If my coworker works 10 hours a day, I should work 12. If my teammate runs 12 miles a day, I should run 15. This also manifests with opinions and positions. If others in my political party are moderately liberal/conservative, I will be more liberal/conservative to show I am better or more committed to the group. After enough people do that, the party is broadcasting extremist statements. This is called “group polarization.” We all know what calamities that can lead to.

It’s tpauseime to stop and think.

It’s time to slow down and check our work to avoid careless mistakes. It’s time to pause and make well thought-out decisions to make sure we are doing what we want to do. It’s time to question the crowd to see if it is going in a direction we think is valuable for us to follow. The cost of not thinking is far greater.