As an advocate for work flexibility, I wish that the many employers currently stuck in an old-fashioned, outdated workplace model could change with the snap of a finger. I wish the transition from inflexibility to flexibility could be as simple as an announcement from the top and a few paragraphs of new policy.
But the reality is, work flexibility is about much more than just place and time. It's also about culture, and culture doesn't change at the drop of a hat.
Work flexibility and culture are intertwined because flexibility is fundamentally about trust and accountability.
Case in point: my boss and I have been working together for over a year, and we've never met in person. My flexible schedule changes daily according to both my personal needs and my work commitments, and I telecommute (she's in Colorado, and I'm in Connecticut). She doesn't care where or when I get my work done (nor does she care why I might be sitting at my desk in the morning and sitting in a coffee shop in the afternoon). She trusts me to make the most effective and productive decisions about where I work and how I structure my time.
But that trust isn't blind. My boss and I both know that with trust also comes accountability. We're in regular communication (by email and phone) about the work I'm doing so that we're on the same page. When she asks for updates on my progress, that's not a betrayal of trust, it's a sign of trust. And it's not just for her benefit, because the more information I share with her, and the more invested she is in the work I'm doing, the better I feel about my job. I want my boss to know what I'm accomplishing, and the fact that my hard work is noticed and acknowledged motivates me to keep it up.
While not every job is suited to the level of flexibility that I have, when the focus of a manager/managee relationship is on work product, not work presence, flexibility in some form or another comes naturally in response.
On the flip side, flexibility will never function in an environment marred by a lack of trust and a lack of accountability. It's easy to blame the telecommuters when team performance goes down, but if someone working from home isn't getting their work done, that's not a telecommuting problem, it's an accountability problem. And if someone on a flexible schedule is constantly being asked to explain why they need that flexibility, that's not a scheduling problem, it's a trust problem.
The bad news about all of this is that a transition from an inflexible work model to a flexible one won't happen overnight. An organization mired in a "command and control" mindset needs to go through a deep culture shift in order for flexibility to be successful.
The good news is, building a flexible workplace also means building a great work culture. And we sure are in desperate need of a culture shift at workplaces across the country. With Gallup reporting that 70 percent of American workers are "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" at work -- at a cost to the U.S. of $450 to $550 billion annually in lost productivity -- it's definitely time for a shake-up.
When I advocate for work flexibility, I'm really advocating for this broader change, which is why I'm pleased to be a Great Work Cultures champion. Join me and stand up for work flexibility, and for workplace cultures built to last.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Great Work Cultures. The latter is creating a new norm of work cultures that optimize worker effectiveness and human happiness. For more info on Great Work Cultures, read here.
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