Not all work requires in person presence, says Brian Ballantyne, who advocates for flexbility for everyone
Comment: We need to think bigger than working mothers, or even “working fathers”, and seek flexibility for all, says Brian Ballantyne.
What's the first thing that springs to your mind when someone mentions “flexible working”? Some people think of a woman, specifically a mother, or a woman who might have children, and/or a woman looking after elderly parents. A caregiver who needs time off, or part-time hours; needing to be “on call” for loved ones.
Some people think of dads, paid full time while looking after their kids by the stealth of WFH (working from home, with a wifi connection) or PFW (parenting from work, fielding calls and emails from school teachers and babysitters).
Parents of all genders certainly need some flexibility in their work arrangements if they are going to be able to be present for their kids. However, flexibility shouldn't just be the sole preserve of parents, courting the resentment of childless peers with this golden excuse.
If, as a society, we want to make progress in the culture change of our workplaces, we need to think bigger than working mothers, or even “working fathers”, and seek flexibility for all. It's not a case of one size fits all, but if we work backwards from inclusion then we can do it!
We are all human
We are all humans with bodies that need exercise (stretching with yoga, or tightening with team sports), and regular maintenance (doctors and dentist appointments). Our homes need maintenance (plumbing and electrical repairs, for example), and new features (e.g. wifi, delivery of appliances).
The reality of life is that often these things can only happen during the working week, and in working hours. The people providing these services also need to take their breaks during evenings and weekends. So, if we want them, then we sometimes need not to be at work, but flex our inputs accordingly to deliver outputs.
Some aspects of work require collaboration, which is more effective in person; that magical connection that happens when you share a moment with another human. Not just the work, but also the small talk of our lives, taking a coffee together. Or breaking bread at lunch, historically the protocol for social integration.
Not all work requires in person presence though. We all know someone who emails or instant messages them from within the range of a paper aeroplane, or an outstretched arm. If we have a report to write, or data to analyse, we make more progress if we are working on our own, and able to concentrate in silence.
So, talk with your team!
When do you all want to work together, and when do you want to get things done alone? Who has other plans that they want to incorporate into their week; which could be anything from choir practice or aikido to lunchtime swimming or morning meditation.
Put the boulders into the jar before the sand. And consider the outputs of your team. What are the goals you are delivering towards, and do you have a clear way to measure and report on progress?
It is critical that you can measure the outputs, and work-defined business inputs, of your team. Otherwise you risk dysfunctional peer paranoia, competing on who can keep their office chair warmest for the longest time!
So, now when you hear “flexible working”, try to picture a high output team, working together or apart, and who are living their dreams.
We all deserve flexibility--it's not a parental perk.
Brian Ballantyne works for a tech company in Luxembourg, where he has lived on and off since 2005. He is a board member of Wide, on the ILA board composition working group, and part of the British Chamber of Commerce “people and leadership” group. He has published an eBook “Confessions of a Working Father”. Views are his own.