Flexible Working. It’s here to stay, and that’s a good thing.
I’m writing this article on a boat, the sea is lapping on the sides, the sun has just poked out from behind a cloud, and the dog is snoozing. This is why anyone involved in their workplace design needs to change how they think about the office and work, now and forever. Flexible working is here to stay.
It’s not just that being on a boat is better place to be than being just about anywhere else (except for the beach perhaps, which I can see from here of course). But for the work I am currently undertaking, it is a better place to complete my task efficiently. Why? Because I need to concentrate, I do not want to be disturbed by people talking to me, asking me questions and trying to “collaborate” with me (at best, or just talk about football, at worst). When I am doing work that requires me to concentrate within myself, being alone is what I need. Flexible working is what we all need.
In fact an open plan office is just about the worse place to do solo work. Even if the “coffee culture” generation has got used to zoning out from the noise of an open plan office, it is sometimes even easier to work in a noisy cafe (where you don’t know anyone), than it is in the office, where catching the boss out of the corner of your eye, or bumping into Debbie from accounts is actually a hazard. In fact when I’m deep in work, I am so zoned out that I appear to be ignoring everyone in my own world. That’s not a good impression to your peers. Offices are sociable experiences, but in actual fact too much collaboration is a bad thing.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, the top business school in the world thinks we are reaching collaborative overload. Something is indeed afoot.
So providing flexible working opportunities to your employees is not only good for work efficiency, it also makes your employees happier. I haven’t had a 2-hour commute today (the most hated part of anyones day surely), and my lunch could be a beach barbecue rather than starbucks sandwich. And let’s not forget, I’ve done a better job, and I am not taking up expensive office space doing that job. For the company looking to get more flexible with their working patterns, they can save 40-60% on office space. In London we are talking costs of over £65 per sq/ft when you take into account business rates, electricity fit out and of course the rent, and typically you can work on 100 sq/ft per person. That adds up. Aren’t you better off getting more out of your staff, whilst spending less on your property assets at the same time? After people, property costs are the highest costs your company incurs. The flexible working argument is talking to the head as well as heart.
That’s not to say the office is dead. It just needs to evolve. It is the place you go to meet, socialise with your peers and collaborate – when you need to. For everything else, somewhere else is probably better. You have to trust your employees not to go to the beach, but even if they are in the office, do you trust them not to be shopping on Amazon, reading the news or updating Facebook? There are plenty of opportunities to be distracted in the office too, but it has been shown that people work better and longer hours outside of the office. So trust them, let go, and reap the rewards. Time for a walk on that beach, after a job well done in double time. The commute this evening is going to be good!