What happened to ‘flexible working’?

We need a new definition of ‘flexible working’. A year ago, the definition of flexible working was clear, for example, if you:

  •  have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger
  • are a carer

and the flexible working arrangements included changes to:

  • hours of work (e.g. changes to start and finish times)
  • patterns of work (e.g. split shifts or job sharing)
  • locations of work (e.g. working from home).

Now regardless of personal circumstances the majority of us are at home trying to work and the boundaries between work and home have become blurred but responsibilities whether personal or professional have remained the same.

Since March I have observed how working from home has exaggerated preferred work styles and exacerbated existing problems. My major concern has been the ‘business as usual’ approach. In recent months, my coachees have told me they are working 15 hours or more and how they are expected to be on call 24/7. The question WHY? immediately springs to mind. Apart from a crisis or an upsurge in business the reasons for these extraordinary hours range from a lack of resources to ‘busyness’ – endless back to back meetings and an avalanche of emails.

As a coach this behaviour concerns me for a number of reasons. Our long-term success will depend on the following:

1.      Sustainability – If the pandemic is a marathon then it can only be run as a relay or a series of sprints. Time out for reflection and recharging is critical.

2.      Role modelling – No one wants to follow a burnt-out leader. In order for leaders to function effectively and influence, engage and inspire folks they need to be energetic.

3.      Resilience – This new business reality will require us to reconsider established procedures, explore new possibilities, experiment and in some cases fail. This requires focus, persistence, and clarity of thought.

4.      Personal effectiveness – Is ‘busyness’ hindering your business. We are all employed for the same purpose – to help the business succeed. We need to focus on what adds value, simplify ways of working and declutter.

5.      Relationships – Invest in your personal and professional relationships by making time for people and showing genuine interest and concern. Going forward everyone will have to make sacrifices as we adapt to the new normal so create goodwill now.

6.      Boundaries – What are your office hours? What is the best time for your team to reach you? Who has access to your calendar?

In conclusion to deal with challenges of the new business reality each team needs a new definition of ‘flexible working’. From now on deadlines have to be realistic, ‘good enough’ has to be defined and individual needs and circumstances have to be taken into consideration. In the short-term flexible working means flexible attitudes to work.