Picture this: you are sitting at your work station with a dozen e-mails, a report, and a deadline to attend to… but first, coffee. Now, you are at the coffee station waiting on the water to boil, and a thought invades your mind: “A smoke break would be great.” You eventually get back to your desk with every intention to tackle the day’s work, but you are distracted by your colleagues having a heated discussion about nothing and everything… then, the phone rings: your manager wants the latest status report. Damn! An email comes through, a meeting invite. Suddenly, it is 11am, an hour ‘till lunch and you have not really started with your work day. Where has the time gone!
I recently watched a TED Talk, ‘Why Work Does Not Happen at Work.” In this talk, Jason Fried, Founder & CEO of Basecamp, presents the problem of unproductiveness at work and what contributes to it. He referred to what he likes to call ‘MnMs’: Managers and Meetings, as the major hurdles to productivity in today’s modern office. This, in his opinion, is a problem that needs fixing. Jason Fried describes how people recount their most productive spaces to be anywhere but the office, and productive periods often fall outside of the normalised working hours of 9-5. Examples of people’s productive spaces include: a coffee shop, home, library, etc.
Oftentimes, people sit at their work all day only to realize they have not been productive. They eventually have to either work late or take work home. Fried explains in the video how people can experience both voluntary and involuntary distractions at work and cannot experience involuntary distractions at other locations. It is for this reason that workers prefer to work in unconventional locations and be uninterrupted in their quest to get work done.
The general thought is that an hour-long meeting only steals an hour of productivity. Contextualising this thought to suit an organisation will look like this: an organisation with 10 employees in an hour long meeting loses 10 hours of productivity. What an apt observation, particularly because most meetings involve discussions that could be neatly put together and communicated in a memorandum or email.
What I have gathered is that managers have an irrational fear – if they cannot see their subordinates, they believe they are not working. The need to constantly see workers or keep tabs on them can be a form of micromanaging. A good manager can provide the proper environment for their workers to achieve more without micromanaging and clockwatching. Productivity cannot be measured by the amount of time an employee puts into a task – that will be efficiency. Productivity can be adequately measured with results and deliverables. By this, we find that the traditional model of measuring productivity is flawed. Managers should be utilising the exercise of control over deliverables, instead of time. In other words, it should not matter where and how the work happens, just that it happens to the expected and agreed standards and within the required time frames. In many corporations, long hours are often encouraged and rewarded with little consideration to the measure of productivity
The move from the industrial age necessitates an evolution in the concept of work from the rigid model. In a world where the workforce is quickly being dominated by Millennials with new and improved ways of working, some traditional practices may be defunct. The PwC study “Millennials at Work” describes how Millennials are and their attitude towards work. Contrary to popular belief, Millennials are not lazy; they have preferred work processes that do not include sitting in a bland cubicle all day. In this new age, anyone (not only Millennials) will prefer to have their work done in a more environmentally appealing space. Fortunately, the technological pandemic happening now allows work to be performed anywhere and at any time. Millennials find that the office environment and rigid working hours are increasingly suffocating and constraining to both creativity and productivity.
What does a new generation worker seek and what is the new face of the concept of workplace landscape? The answer is simple: Flexi-time. Flexi-time is a system of working a set number of hours within the day or week, chosen within agreed limits by the employee. In the millennial age, people seek an environment where deliverables are measured instead of time spent on one job. Organisations need to move towards models where they provide clear targets and deadlines and use these as measures of productivity rather than the rigid 9-5 work day which could easily breed complacency.
Of course, for this model to work perfectly, the organisation will need to have some level of consideration for technology. Technology enables workers to easily and inexpensively connect with locations all over the world. This presents an opportunity to build infrastructure in organisations where information can be shared easily and work can be done smarter. While agile working will generate value for both the employee and the employer, it will be driven by business needs. There will be more scope for agile working in some jobs than in others, for example, staff in a care home or supermarket cannot be flexible in their location of work, but flexibility can be achieved in other areas such as time and roles.
Additionally, agile working can only be achieved with high levels of trust and a performance-driven culture. Organisations will have to develop new management skills that help teams work and communicate more effectively, and maintain a high level of engagement and performance. Employees will need to understand what they are expected to do, the method of monitoring workload, how success will be measured, how their success will feed into the performance management process, what communication is required from them, and how their line managers will communicate with them.
A few other things to consider when shifting a work culture from the traditional 9-5 work hours to a-typical working include: reward, contracts, expenses, health and safety, ergonomics, insurance, confidentiality, and security. In order to establish an agile working culture that produces the desired result, a lot of planning and commitment will be required. These are all essential and minute steps, considering the great need to consider nixing the 9 to 5. There is so much more to achieve when we do
“Set them free: Millennials want flexibility. They work well with clear instructions and concrete targets. If you know what you want done by when, why does it matter where and how they complete the task? Give them the freedom to have a flexible work schedule. Does it matter if they work from home or a coffee shop if that is where they are most productive? Set deadlines and if they meet them, don’t worry so much about their tactics and the time they clock in and out.”
By Aphelele Tapile