Implementing Flexible Working: The Culture & People Shift
When it comes to flexible working, the first area that often gets touched upon is how it will look practically and operationally. How will work get done?
But the one area I’ve seen most overlooked is our mindset towards flexible working.
Pre-covid, flexible working was still seen as something which only parents or carers required in order to ‘juggle’ their responsibilities. In fact, flexibility stigma is a socially recognised issue; we deem those who work flexibly as creating more work for others, and those who work more flexibly are often bypassed for new projects or promotions.
However, I think our flexibility stigma goes much deeper. Even almost to a very personal level.
In our traditional view of work, we have been conditioned to believe that overwork is good.
Overwork shows that you’re dedicated and committed to your work.
Overwork is praised by our boss and even rewarded with compensation.
Overwork is the only way you succeed.
These are the beliefs many of us have all been conditioned with thanks to our outdated concepts of what work looks like.
And this is where the problem often lies when businesses look to shift to a new flexible working model.
Operationally it can be seamless. But on a human level, there are attitudes and behaviours that we have to shift.
Unfortunately, for many teams, despite being given a new flexible working model they can continue to overwork themselves. After all, how do you overcome decades of being trained to overwork?
The answer is in two parts. You have to change the culture, and you have to support teams in shifting their mindsets from ‘always being on’, to learning a new way of working.
The Culture Shift
To make flexible working really work, you have to remove the old systems and practices which inadvertently promoted overwork. Yes, no more promotions for those who are just ‘seen’ putting in the hours. You have to shift recognition, reward, pay, and even project management to ensure that as a culture you’re not unconsciously encouraging people to work beyond what is required of them.
For some companies this may even have to go deeper into the business itself; you may have to change how you charge your clients or services, and even what you deem as success.
An example of this may be if you charge your clients hourly, this often then reflects into how you pay your team, which then influences how you reward them. Ultimately people may try to gamify the system because they know that overwork ultimately means more pay.
The outdated 9 – 5 concept ensures that people are valued for the hours spent on work, rather than the results created.
However, getting clear on these areas of your culture when implementing flexible working can ensure that you build a strong values-based culture and reward system; rather than one that can easily influence overwork – making flexible working redundant in its benefits.
This is why at a cultural level you may even need to address your purpose and values to ensure that culturally you are aligned as a team on what the company is working towards and how you plan to get there.
It’s easier said than done for many, and it’s a cornerstone of flexible working which goes amiss.
No wonder why many businesses love the idea of flexible working but fall down at the first hurdle when the slightest resistance comes up.
The People Shift
Like I said earlier, the shift to flexible working is not just a culture piece; it needs a holistic approach that enables your team to fully embrace this style of working.
The culture lays the foundations for your flexible working, but the mindset shift is the missing piece.
I can’t begin to tell you how many business owners have said to me, “we have a great culture so flexible working will work great for the team.”
But then who months later tell me that the team is still working well beyond their dedicated working hours.
Aside from the overwork conditioning which needs to be addressed, there is also the practical element of the shift to flexible working – what are people going to do with their new found freedom?
When I work with companies to support them in adopting flexible working we always discuss with the team the activities they would like to do if they had more flexibility.
This could include hobbies, sports, seeing family, volunteering locally. The teams always come up with an abundance of ideas to bring more to their lives. But they have to make a commitment there and then to diarise these activities outside of work, otherwise, they never get prioritised and they fall back into their default of just spending an extra hour or two on work!
When it comes to switching mindsets this practice has to be provided to leaders and teams in order to shift the climate from overwork to value-based work.
Unfortunately, as with any mindset work, this isn’t a quick fix. It takes coaching, support and consistent reflection. Ironing out decades worth of toxic workplace behaviours doesn’t just happen overnight.
If you genuinely want to change the way your business operates, and provide a flexible working model that works for business and people then don’t miss this step. The default of the traditional business blueprint will appeal when all isn’t going well, but working on more than just operations will ensure your team has the mindset and resilience to move forward.