Back in December, I tweeted this photo of my empty filing cabinet…
Much the same as any other filing cabinet, you might think….and of course you’d be right! The difference is though, that this empty filing cabinet symbolised a bold move to a wholly different way of working and the start of a genuinely exciting journey for my workplace, the creation of a truly digital hub to coincide with our office move. I am belatedly making good on my promise to blog about it.
The premise was simple. A small number of functions were designated as ‘fixed desk’ workers, for example the telesales teams, who clearly benefit from being office based in a competitive, encouraging environment and enjoy doing so and they moved ‘as is’ with no issues. Other than these functions, anyone could become a homeworker if they wished to and we had around 80 individuals opting to take this choice. All other staff, became by default flexible workers, meaning that they could work from home, from the new office or another alternative location, whenever they chose to, with no requirement of management approval or agreeing working patterns. We very deliberately chose to trust people and treat them as the adults they are.
Let me tell you first what there wasn’t: there were no weighty policies, there was simply a principles document, outlining what I have described above. There was no requirement for management and HR approval or consent, for either homeworking or flexible working: there were simply some basic technical requirements to become a homeworker, for example a minimum broadband speed and health and safety assessment and a clear message that all staff were able to work flexibly. There were no designated offices for anyone at all in the new building, there were no specific desks for individuals, there were no pedestals at the desks, no vast storage capabilities available on site.
But there was investment: investment in laptops, so that staff could work flexibly in the way that we had promised them and investment in digital archiving and online tools to help people communicate more effectively and share documents as needed. There was a system put in place so that people could book desks online, up to a week in advance and plenty of meeting rooms that could be booked and informal meeting spaces, for more ad hoc conversations. There were lockers made available for personal belongings and broad ‘neighbourhoods’ created so that teams could choose to sit with others in their division if they wished to. There was a simple process to access a net payment for those individuals setting themselves up as homeworkers. There was lots of training for managers and for staff on why we were implementing these changes, what the new environment would be like, how to manage in periods of change and uncertainty, what the new parameters were. There was a huge amount of hard work, commitment, enthusiasm and willingness to change, to give something different a try, to trust, to empower.
There have been bumps along the way on this journey, of course there have. But actually, those bumps have been surprisingly few and far between. We have been in our new digital hub and operating our new way of working for over six months now, and the feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive. The open plan environment has energised people, the opportunity to work in a truly flexible way and to be trusted is highly prized and valued. The hard and fast metrics will become clearer over time but so far turnover is down, productivity remains good and people are far happier. For us, it is the first step, but undoubtedly a hugely significant one, which is likely to change how we perceive the working environment and our approach to flexible working for good.
Businesses talk a lot about making changes to how people work, to empowering and trusting staff. It has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be part of the team that has led the transformation to a completely different way of working and challenged the existing norms. Why is it that we assume people are working harder if we can see them sitting at a desk? That if they are empowered to manage their own time, they will skive off? Do we really need to resort to command and control to get the best out of people? And if we can change how people work and interact with each other, what else can we do and let go of to make work even better? Now that really is food for thought!
Questions? Comments? I’d love to know what you think.