Thursday, May 1, 2014

Four Reasons Why Flexi-Time Is Good For Employers

Today is Labour Day and a public holiday, where I am. And to celebrate Labour Day, it's poignant to talk about labour conditions.

The 19th century was a pivotal period in world history for the working class. Slavery was abolished in the United States of America and British empire. Yet, it did not happen overnight, as the ruling aristocrats put up serious resistance. It took decades for legal reforms to be passed, and in America, including a bloody civil war.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and there's a new labour revolution spreading across the Western world - flexible working arrangements, or flexi-time in short. The battle is not so much about reforming the law, but changing mindsets. The battle is mainly about protecting the quality of employees' life, but it doesn't stop at that - the change is good for employers, too.

The abolition of slavery did not bring forth a dearth of work productivity. Instead, the last two centuries has overseen a boom in human efficiency and ingenuity. Promotion of flexi-time in the work-space might yet prove to be another giant leap for humanity.

1. Increase Work Efficiency

Anyone who thinks a normal human being can work eight hours (or more) straight without a decent break is ether a madman or megalomaniac. Anyone who thinks an office staff doesn't take suspicious long walks to the pantry or toilet, or log onto the social network via computer or mobile, is naive and gravely mistaken.

Being cooped up in a cubicle, or even a room, for long periods is tiring - physically and mentally. Force a person to work within an eight-hour period, and chances are, he's actually working half that time. Allow a person to work at his own pace within 24 hours, and chances are, he's more able to rest and re-energise to put in eight hour's worth of work throughout the day.

Do great people work harder than the rest? Not quite. If there's one secret to be learnt from geniuses, it's that they each roll in their own way: Ludwig van Beethoven enjoyed long walks, Charles Darwin was a multi-tasker, and Benjamin Franklin slept a lot. Not everyone is a genius, of course. But every mind ticks differently. Give employees the freedom to manage their time, and you will unlock their true potential.

Most of my daily agenda items are similar to the late Mr. Darwin's, except with a minor addendum at the back (e.g. "Work... but first, let me take a #selfie!")


2. Improve Work-Life Integration

All employers secretly hope that their employees will equate work with life - or at the very least, that employees care enough about their jobs that they would respond to the call of duty, anytime, anywhere. Interestingly enough, flexi-time comes close to realising such hopes.

Fixed working hours is a creation of the past. A distant past where people report to work on a farm or factory. A distant past where computers, the Internet, and smartphones do not exist. A distant past where it is understandable for employers to want to keep a short leash on their employees to make sure that they don't, say, sneak away into a barn with their daughter.

Except for hard labour and administrative tasks (which will largely be taken over by machines in the not-too-distant future, anyway), most type of work can be performed remotely. Waiting for an urgent email from a client? No need to linger in the office restlessly - just head for dinner, chill out, wait for your smartphone to ping, and continue working on your laptop later in the night.

The trade-off for employees is that they're expected to work outside usual business hours. But if the benefit is waltzing into office past nine and leaving for the gym by five, it's a price most employees will gladly pay.

3. Save On Costs

This is somewhat related to point two above. The underlying idea, like before, is that work is not necessarily tied to office. Real estate prices are soaring. Companies need to minimise work space, to minimise rental cost. The solution? Introduce an open plan office, with a mix of private cubicles, open workstations and huddle rooms. Since working in tight, public spaces isn't conducive for long periods, such a dynamic working environment needs to be balanced by allowing people to occasionally work from the luxury of their homes.

Also, companies incur additional overheads when they open their office beyond business hours - on security and electricity. By allowing employees to work at their own pace and place, companies are able to shut shop strictly after business hours.

And how about those desperate freebies thrown in to make up to disgruntled employees having to work through the night without overtime? Petty dinner treats, cheerless firm events - we don't need that shit. We can afford our own meals and budget airline tickets. Save on cost, save on false show of generosity, boss. All we want is our precious time and freedom.

No, we don't need bandages and long walks through the scenic countryside. All we want - like Django - is our freedom.

4. Develop And Empower Talents

Most bosses feel the need to espy their subordinates across the floor, heads bowed over work desks. To them, visibility is the measure of productivity.

This reflects poor leadership. Any boss who thinks that way suffers from lack of trust. Lacking trust in his employees' abilities, and lacking trust in his own ability to assess his employees' abilities.

As long as an employee is meeting deadlines, making clients happy, bringing in sales, hitting KPIs and above all, doing a bloody good job - why bother what time the employee works? Judging quality by one's visibility in the office is lazy and silly. A student scores points by answering the right questions in exams, not by simply turning up for class. Similarly, an employee ought to be judged by performance, not presence.

A good leader does not keep looking over the shoulders of his followers. He trusts them to do the right thing on their own. A good leader focuses more on recruiting and training, less on monitoring and managing. Give them time, space, and above all, trust - that's how talents are developed and empowered.

Employees Unchained

Equating modern employers with medieval slavers may seem rather harsh. But deep within the human mind, some things never change. The urge to control others. Binding minions with chains of contract, scaring them with the whip of dismissal. All employers, consciously or otherwise, desire to dictate the flow of their employees' life.

The question is not whether employers are lawfully entitled to require their staff to turn up for work at fixed hours (they are). Rather, the question is whether that's necessarily the best policy to maximise work productivity and profitability, from the employer's perspective.

The answer - to me as an enlightened and empowered employee - is negative. After all, what really matters to a farmer is not how many hours the farmhand spends wandering around the apple orchard, but how many apples the farmhand collects in the basket at the end of the day.

A typical enlightened and empowered employee of the 21st century
#sleepie #selfie #workhardplayhard

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