The answer to this usually depends on who you ask and more importantly, the generation they come from. I have an example that would explain this relatively well. There have been many days when my father would call me up in the middle of the day (always around noon so as to coincide with “lunch”) to ask me random questions such as “why did the price of gold plummet today?” or “Cheese is on sale at Costco today, do you want me to buy you 5 kilos worth?”. The conversation always takes an interesting turn when he finds out that I’m working from home. He will get noticeably irritated and say “I can’t believe your managers would ever agree to something like this, if you were working for me this would NEVER happen!” At one point I remember humoring him and asking “What is it about working from home that bothers you?” to which he staunchly explained “how can anybody see what you’re doing?! You can just tell people you’re working from home and watch TV all day, this is non-sense. Works means having to dress up in the morning, it’s having to pack your lunch, leave early, do your time and come back at 5pm”.
Given that my father is not big on political correctness, you would be surprised at how many people share this view (to some extent) – but why is that?
We know for certain that people’s beliefs and realities are largely shaped by the generations they come from and the experiences they’ve accumulated over the years. For this reason, we can more or less begin to understand where some of those work philosophies come from, so let’s put the generational aspect aside for this discussion. I’m more interested in how managers manage, because this plays a critical role in how flexible arrangements are viewed.
Perhaps you’ve come across some of these managers who are “too busy” to be involved in the day-to-day activities of their employees or don’t necessary track their work performance that closely – except of course once or twice a year when ratings and bonuses have to be issued. For these managers, the quick and sure-fire way of “managing” is to regulate what I refer to as butt-in-seat time. Butt-in-Seat time is the amount of time you spend at your work desk or at work. For these managers, flexibility or “work from home” is viewed as a way for employees to slack-off, or worse “not putting in your hours”.
The biggest assumption, and worst flaw of this approach is of course – assuming that the time spent in the office is equivalent to productivity. For an employee who works for a ‘butt-in-seat’ manager the goal is relatively simple, manage your face-time and presence around the office. This might involve sending emails very early in the morning and late in the afternoon, stroll around the office every so often, have an extended lunch, frequent coffee/smoke breaks or initiate useless banter with colleagues so as to give off the impression that you’ve had a long long day. The consequence? Performance is not accurately tracked.
This is not to say that work is not being performed at all, however, the amount of work being produced is simply a fraction of what could be achieved.
Managers have to be accountable for the performance of their employees, and this means that performance has be the main focus when managing employees. Where this performance occurs should be irrelevant as long as performance is being achieved! When managers establish this from the beginning it becomes extremely difficult for employees to get around it and they will begin to manage their performance and become more accountable. Otherwise, poor performers will be easily identified.
Consider this, in today’s work environment employees – with relative ease – can fill their entire day/week with “meetings”. They may claim that they simply don’t have enough time to do anything because they’re in meetings ALL day. When managers begin to hold people accountable and manage to performance, 360 feedback and goal-based metrics, employees will consciously accept the meetings that they absolutely need to be involved in, while passing on the other “nice-to-know” meetings.
Flexible work arrangements may help with this, by avoiding commute, reducing casual conversations or chatter, and (depending on where you are) offer an environment free of distractions. Nevertheless, if the employee is not accountable then such an environment could further aid their lack of productivity, but to a performance focused manager this will be easy to spot.
Managing to performance through increased accountability maybe too simple in theory – but it works!
So the next time your employee requests flexible work arrangements or work-from-home opportunities, you might want to consider their performance to-date and assess whether they are being accountable – this may work better than tracking their butt-in-seat time.