For years now we have been talking about flexible working. It conjures up an image of using a laptop on a beach, that was the promise. At the time your laptop weighed about 4 kilos, had a battery life of an hour if you were lucky and you wouldn’t have been able to read the screen anyway.
Now we actually do have the technology to allow us to work from anywhere, but flexible working is still not fully embraced. Why is this? I think it some ways technology has outstepped us and our brains still have to catch up. I for one cannot work at home, I don’t like being by myself and I get too distracted and find it difficult to get into “work mode” so whilst the technology makes it possible for me, I actually like the change of location and also seeing people.
Also what about collaboration, you can’t collaborate with yourself and yet attempts to foster more openness in a work environment often don’t work well either. This RSA animate short from Dave Coplin looks at the whole nature of work and also has a very entertaining bit about open plan offices: http://www.thersa.org/events/rsaanimate/animate/rsa-animate-re-imagining-work
I have found many of the most collaborative conversations in open plan spaces happen in the places outside the open space where people feel like they can have an unobserved conversation. People do actually talk around the water cooler!
Trust is an Issue
Another interesting point is trust. We have the technology and ability, but trust is an issue. Do we trust ourselves to work away from the work environment and do others trust us? Apparently not, according to Dave’s article 73% of British workers feel that people do not work as hard if they are working away from the office, so there does seem to be a feeling that “working from home” is just another way of skiving. Ironically people feel guilty about working away from the office and this may actually lead them to overcompensate and work longer hours and send more emails and do more phone calls to ensure they are still visible.
For me it reminds me of my first week in college, a fellow student went up to the lecturer with a note at the start of the class from their mum saying they had to leave early to go to the dentist. The lecturer’s response was “You are in college now, your work is your responsibility and you don’t need to give me this note.”
I think when it comes to flexible working practices the technology is there but we are still institutionalised and until employees and employers can really change their mindset about what constitutes work, we will still be saying “Please Miss can I go now?”