I’m an advocate for work flexibility. I work from home when I need a change of scenery and I seem to get more work done before 12pm than I would in the office, all day. Not that I’m unproductive in the office but sometimes I crave a different environment to get my creative juices flowing and reignite my motivation. I find working from cafes invigorating and stimulating. Or maybe that’s a result of the amount of coffee I drink when I’m there?
Technology has made working away from the office easier than ever before and it’s not news that in some instances, this has adversely impacted our ability to disconnect. Because working away from the office is now so accessible, there seems to be this unwritten expectation that regardless of where you are, you should be responding to emails, because you can.
Working from home has its benefits, for sure. But what happens when you take sick leave because you’re (metaphorically) dying from a cold and choose not to infest everyone else in the office with your germs. Are you expected to work from home then? What about submitting your leave in this instance? You’re taking sick leave but you’re also still working. Or what about when you’re on annual leave and the hours waiting in a boring airport with no stimulation are filled with working remotely, it’s as if you didn’t take leave at all.
The emergence of remote and flexible working has provided solutions to a lot of companies and individuals in terms of engagement, culture, productivity and cost, but it has also brought with it a realm of different problems.
When an organisation adopts a ‘flexible’ working policy, there should be a blueprint of company guidelines that accompany it. And I’m not talking about the standard run of the mill ‘intellectual property’, ‘security’ and ‘data protection policy’ guidelines. I’m talking about guidelines of when you are and are not expected to work remotely.
For example, when an employee takes sick leave they are encouraged to NOT respond to emails or log on at home and are expected to utilise sick leave to get well enough that they can mentally and physically return to work (wherever that may take place). Further, just because employees can log into their emails at 10pm at night, they are not expected to and work can wait until the morning. IF an employee or manager does send emails at night after hours, under no circumstances is a response expected until the next working day. Just because a manager or employee likes to work when their kids are asleep and they have wound down or think of something at 11.30pm and sends emails, does not mean that you are expected to do the same and this behaviour won’t be viewed as ‘favourable’ when taking into consideration work ethic or commitment to a role, project or the organisation itself.
If these ‘rules’ or policies are written into the working from home, flexible working policy, it creates a culture of where employees don’t feel guilty for living out the ‘life’ part of work-life balance.
In many organisations there is also this notion of ‘presenteeism’, where employees are viewed as productive and hardworking if they are in the office and suggests that if you are not physically in the office, you are not committed. This could be further from the truth and is detrimental to an organisation’s flexible working culture. If a company brings in a flexible working policy but fails to change cultural norms of ‘starting early and staying late means you’re viewed as hardworking’, then employees will be apprehensive about working away from the office to avoid being viewed negatively. I know employees who are in the office for 10 hours a day but do about two hours of work, and then there are those who work from home one day a week and do more work in a day, than some do in three.
Being in the office shouldn’t be associated with commitment, work ethic or quality of work. Instead, we need to be a voice for organisations and lead by example, that working from home is WORKING from another location. Taking sick leave is signing off from emails and resting to ensure you recover, and annual leave is not an expectation that employees still work, while using allocated leave without compensation.