Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

With the current level of congestion in some cities, increased commuting time, lack of office space and the heightened focus of the effects of car pollutants on the environment, it makes sense for some employees to start working in a different working environment than they would have done previously. The “virtual office”, an office with no cubicles, no dedicated desks –  just expansive space and lockers for personal items and laptops dedicated for day-use-only – is becoming more common.
Some employers believe that by changing the physical working environment of their employees and allowing them to manoeuvre fluidly in the most open of open offices it will bolster the creativity of staff. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, some workers want more freedom and an open office is not always the solution, for example, sometimes knowledge workers don’t like being in the public eye and they dislike distracting spaces all the time even more than they like being in isolated pigeonholes. Moreover, some sales people prefer that their ‘confidential’ sales calls are not overheard when negotiating deals.
Could the solution in this case be flexible working hours? Flexibility gives employees the freedom over how the work gets done rather than mandating hours inside a desolate cubicle or in a noisy open floor plan. Flexibility encourages employees to use their own judgment to determine what to work on, when to work on it, and where to do it. It also gives more control back to the individual. For the organisation, it helps increase worker morale, engagement, performance, productivity, and loyalty. But sadly, flexible working is a concept all too often misunderstood and more often than not, poorly practiced. So how can companies actually make flexible work, actually work?
Below are a few suggestions: –
More even distribution of power
Managers could start distributing their power and stop telling workers how to work. Instead of ‘Do it our way for the benefit of the company’ they should instead say ‘Do it your way, so long as it advances the vision and the work gets done’.
Ricardo Semler, the CEO of Brazilian manufacturer Semco Partners, did just this, and let go of control. In the process, he radically reinvented his company’s ways of working. In 1980 as a newly appointed CEO and fresh-faced twenty-one-year-old he abruptly fired 60% of the top managers who were set in their ways. He then took a bigger leap of faith by permitting staff to set their own hours. This enabled them to commute when traffic was lighter in an ultra-congested Sao Paulo. He was the first person to implement such a strategy. As a result, this flexible work environment allowed workers to shift their work commitments to suit their personality type, their given mood, and the particular task at hand.
Actually, the best business practice that accommodates for this is called Activity Based Working (ABW). The term, coined 25 years ago by Erik Veldhoen, in his book 1994 book ‘The Demise of the Office’ which simply treats work as an activity rather than a place people go.
Implement the correct digital tools.
The vital ingredient for companies to put this in to affect is commitment to support this constant movement with the correct digital tools. Some companies fail at this is because they support the idea of flexible working hours yet fail to provide the right tools to actually implement it correctly.
According to Steelcase’s 360 Global Report, fixed technology outnumbers mobile technology by 2:1 in the workplace. This means, employees may not be able to take a business call while strolling in the park or to work deeply on a project in the silence of their own home office. Staying in motion, boosts creativity and this can only be accomplished with the help of mobile tools and of course, increased creativity leads to serendipitous collisions, interesting collaborations, and wonderful insights.
For example, movement is actually the foundation of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino; part playground, part office, and yes, mostly park—the main feature is for employees to be in perpetual motion.
Provide a nourishing environment
Progressive businesses determined on creating healthy work practices must first accept the fact that every employee performs their best work in different ways. Then they must cater to that employee’s chosen mode of work with the right tools. They need to provide a nourishing environment for the activity at hand. The employees should be capable to fulfil their responsibilities to their company and do it from wherever they are able to maintain the most focus.
It’s become the exception to create an office that provides for the multitude of ways in which people work today. While some companies do the right thing by getting rid of cubicles, it is still important to provide quiet private spaces for individual work. An average worker is interrupted every 11 minutes and what’s more alarming is how it takes them over 23 minutes to return to the task at hand. This is so often what flexible work has come to represent; workers staying at home just so they can get some real work done.
It us up to Company leaders to apply these changes correctly. Company leaders who fear losing control are stifling innovation instead of fostering it. But it is possible to get flexible working right.  Workplaces that bring together the optimum design of space supported by the right technological tools and business practices, become a worker’s destination of choice. It’s part of the reason why ‘workations’ (yes, a fusion of work and vacation) have taken off in Japan (maybe that is going a bit too far, but that is altogether another topic).
What was once an aspiration for finding that perfect work-life balance is becoming an aspiration for cultivating a colourful work-life integration for a lot of staff and conveys a message ‘we trust you’.
Today at Semco, employees are mobilised to solve problems and make decisions, including setting their own salaries. The sentiment is “get your work done and enjoy your life”; it’s not a suggestion so much as a mandate. Pioneers like Semler appreciate that giving people control over how they work not only permits them to perform at their best, it also helps them to understand and optimize the system of work that underpins and advances the entire organization. Employees feel empowered to make flexible working flourish, and it’s confirmed by the company’s steady growth.
Over the last few months Oration Speakers have noticed an upsurge in the amount of enquiries for Keynote Speakers who can talk about the future of work and this particular topic. If you’d like to find out more about Ricardo Semler & his topics and availability, as well as other excellent Keynote Speakers please contact Oration Speakers.

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