BIMBeing: The Journey #33
#33 – Flexible working…
Photo by Ken Tomita from Pexels.
Now, more than ever, the need for a flexible working environment is absolutely essential. Gone should be the days where working full time in the construction industry must mean a physical office presence between the hours of 9 and 5. As we continue to develop a greater understanding of our true needs and wants, companies have had to change their employee expectations. We now have a greater appreciation for our general wellbeing, particularly our mental health, and we have a stronger grasp on what really motivates us in the workplace (Post #12). Companies may no longer expect people to work ludicrous hours in substandard conditions for minimal pay and benefits with absolutely no flexibility, it’s just not acceptable; we are not machines (Post #17).
A note to say that I will continue to refer to these arrangements as ‘flexible’ working, not ‘agile’ working as it’s so often referred to. The term ‘agile’ seems nonsensical to me, as though you’re holding a laptop whilst running a marathon or hosting a meeting whilst playing dodgeball. We need our working arrangements to be flexible in terms of ability to change, not nimble like an athlete.
A key part of flexible working is typically considered to be working ‘remotely’ from the office, more often than not that’s working from home. A quick search on google reveals many surveys that result in 80% or more of those questioned responding that they would like to work from home, in some capacity. Whether it’s a regular X-number of days per week or the ability to do so ‘ad-hoc’, you can’t consider your work to be truly flexible without the option to work remotely. Clearly, this is not always possible for certain job roles; an electrician can’t fit sockets from home for example, and a site manager can’t inspect the work without physically being on site (unless you’ve got some very good reality capture technologies at work). For the rest of us though, working from home is a fantastic option to have. It means that you can work around your non-robotic life, without the need for unnecessary annual leave days or worse still, suspiciously recurring ‘sick days’. You’ve got builders coming around? No problem. You’ve got a furniture delivery? Simple. You’re trying to avoid catching a new deadly virus? Now that’s really handy.
The recent outbreak of the Covid-19 Coronavirus is further proof that companies must ensure that flexible options are available to their teams. The recent publication from the government predicts that a worst-case scenario could see an 80% infection rate in the UK, with up to 20% of the workforce concurrently unable to go to work (through either sickness or precautionary isolation). These are some very daunting figures. Consider 1 in 5 of the people you work with not being present on any given day; also consider that scenario rolling on for weeks, or even months, as some people return from sickness whilst others leave for the same reason. The disruption to company activity is potentially huge. Flexible working can go a long way to counter this, however. Self-isolation at home is hardly an issue if you’re able to spend those two weeks working.
Flexible working should still be regarded as a benefit, not a right, and there are two things that must come together in order to make it possible; that’s the company, and you. Companies have to ensure that you are technically able to work whilst outside of the office. You’re very likely to need a company laptop or tablet, possibly a company phone as well and the ability to connect to the company systems. You need access to emails, data and software that facilitates remote collaboration (such as Microsoft Teams) in order to remain in contact with your colleagues and employees. Companies also need to enforce robust policies that cover data security and health and safety whilst you’re working out of the office too. There is a significant investment in ensuring that all of this is available; this is certainly no overnight job. It’s important then that companies embrace flexible working as part of ‘the norm’, rather than reacting to events such as a viral outbreak when it is simply too late to start setting this up from scratch. Technologically advanced companies such as Google can, and have been able to, instruct thousands of employees to work from home at the touch of a button. They are a perfect example of businesses that have embraced the 21st century working environment, and that’s prepared them for almost anything.
You also have a significant role to play in making flexible working a success. A lot of this links back to having the right attitude, as I discussed in post #29. Can your employer/manager/colleagues trust you to work effectively from home? Are you self-motivated enough to be productive, or will you just be sitting back with Netflix and a coffee? Will you genuinely dedicate your day to your work as you would if you were in the office? Will you remain contactable, either by phone, email or through collaborative online platforms? Or will you shut yourself away, treating the ‘work from home’ as an extra day off, being distracted by personal chores/pets/children etc.? You must have the right attitude for mobile working, you must have a suitable environment in which to work and your employer must be able to trust that you’ll continue to be an effective employee whilst out of the office. Without these, mobile working will simply not be an option. This is a wake-up call for all of those employees that may be asking (or moaning) about why they cannot work from home. Well, check the above list again, does any of it sound familiar? It’s not necessarily the companies fault here.
It’s an agreement of sorts, between employer and employee. The employer must set the technical framework in place to facilitate mobile working and trust their employees to still get the job done. In return, employees must be dependable, trustworthy and capable of working unsupervised. It’s really as simple as that. Encouraging this flexibility benefits all involved, especially when we’re faced with a potential pandemic. I hate to be a scare-monger, and in honesty I think the current Covid-19 situation has been blown somewhat our of proportion, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be well prepared. By being prepared I mean the ability to work from home, I do not mean heading down to the supermarket and buying 2 years worth of toilet rolls and tinned food – you’re better than that.
Remember to stay positive, Covid-19 is not the end of the entire world as we know it. There are plenty of other things out there that as just as likely to kill you, so every cloud really does have a silver lining!