Friday, 22 January 2010

When good flexible working goes bad ...

With case studies of flexible work, we hear the good news. But I've come across several examples of flexible working programmes that have gone into decline, or reverse. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • New Chief Executive, cut from traditional cloth, doesn't like people being out of sight, and sets up a review. Momentum leaves the flexible work programme, as managers all the way down the line don't want to proceed with something that may end up being a waste of time and could reflect badly on them.
  • Reorganisation. Faced with pressures on the business, the deck-chair re-arrangers come to the fore. They probably engage one of the big consultancies to draw new organisation charts. Teams successfully working flexibly are broken up and put into departments which work in the old ways. Desk-sharing comes a cropper as the numbers don't work any more, and no one has thought about this as part of the old-fashioned restructuring.
  • Downsizing. When flexible working was introduced, so was desk-sharing in the office. 25 desks for 35 people was thought to be quite radical. But now there are only 24 people in the team, and everyone is reverting back to the old 1:1 and sitting at the same desk every day.
  • Top team sabotage. After the introduction of smart working, which they have supported, the executive management team decide they don't go for all this togetherness. Our work is confidential. It's different. We're special.
    Meeting rooms are re-colonised as private offices - and it's a downward path from here as staff get the message.

What's the message here? I guess it's that introducing flexible working is a continuing journey. And sometimes the ground is shifting under your feet, and it's not safe to stand - you'll be sliding back or falling down a big hole.

So what's the answer? The organisation culture needs to change so that the principles of smart/flexible work are embedded. Whenever changes are proposed, the impacts on working practices become a central consideration.

And the culture needs to have taken root so that neither the top team or the new broom will find it so easy to sweep out the new and bring in the old.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

When the snowman brings the snow ...

Well here in north Cambridgeshire we've had the most snow since 1963 - and I can actually remember 1963, as it happens.

We don't deal with snow well here - friends from Canada, Sweden etc fall around laughing watching our wall-to-wall news coverage of a few centimetres of snow. But some time ago we took the collective if unconscious decision that it wasn't worth it economically to prepare properly for the limited disruption we get every few years.

That's fine - except that in the world of work we tend to have rules that say, whatever the weather you must try to soldier on as normal. Have you had a message from HR or your Chief Executive saying something to the effect of: "We expect staff to make every effort to come in, while taking care in the weather conditions"?

I was half encouraged by seeing a proposed 'bad weather policy' from the TUC which includes the lines:

"If you judge that weather conditions or transport problems make it impossible for you to get to work, you should contact your (insert designated contact head of Department/line manager) as soon as possible to tell them about the problem. Your manager will make a judgement on whether:

- you will be allowed to come in late;

- you will be allowed to work from home; or

- if your job can't be done at home, you will be allowed to stay at home without suffering any loss of pay or annual leave."

While it's good that working from home is seen as potential option, I'm only half encouraged. Because the assumption is that it only applies if it's impossible to get in to work. I'd start by replacing the word 'impossible' with 'inefficient'.

It seems both employers and unions still expect staff to make heroic efforts to get to work. The mindset is "Waste your time, waste our time, risk injury - because if we can't see you, we don't believe you're working"

Only if all else fails does working in the most appropriate place to work effectively come into play.

TUC policy
Flexibility advice