Businesses need to get rid of their flexible working fears if they want to succeed in a post-COVID world.
The idea of work-life balance is total bulls***.
At its core, flexibility has been the domain of working mothers trying to juggle going to work and raising children. Either that, or it’s been an engagement tool, granted as a reward for long service, good work, or a recruitment tactic that only pays lip service in order to win Best Employer awards.
Before COVID-19, flexibility required employees to find ‘balance’ within a predetermined set of rules and accepted behaviours. You can have balance, but not too much. Make sure you’re seen around the office or else you won’t get that promotion! Oooh, you’re not coming in until 11am? I expected better of you, Linda.
Now, with the entire world having no choice but to work from home, the dirty little secret is out: “balance” is a load of crap, and people can actually still get work done from home, without seeing their colleagues or bosses for months.
The concept of balance is bulls***
Let me explain. In order to benefit from true flexibility as a business, you have to understand that the concept of “balance” is supremely flawed. Balance, by its very definition suggests that something is completely 50/50. If it’s not, then it’s not balanced. The way we speak about balance – a balanced diet, a balanced relationship, work-life balance – insinuates that these things each have equal sides. But:
No one eats exactly 50% “healthy” food and 50% “unhealthy” food.
No one’s relationships are 50% in equal favour of each person.
And no one lives by spending exactly 50% of their time at work, and 50% at home.
Balance is, quite simply, not a thing. Rather, what we’re looking for is harmony. Or a blend. Or whatever jargon you want to use. This is the approach you must come at flexibility with.
Consider it like this: a single human being has a maximum capacity of 100% to give, and their entire life must be conducted within this 100%. Like a sliding scale, sometimes the marker is all the way up towards “work”, and other times it will swing the other way towards “family”, or “studying” or something outside of their profession.
This is a more realistic and manageable approach for both people and businesses. Most people don’t have balance over anything in their lives, but they can personally and individually interpret and apply how they conduct a harmonious life or blend of activities, if given the option. And this autonomy over how they achieve the work they’re tasked with is what everyone really wants.
But what about productivity!?
Well, I am so glad you asked. Many employers – especially in more traditional industries and countries with a more traditional work culture – believe flexibility gives people the chance to be lazy. The presenteeism fears reign supreme, and too many leaders still operate with a “bums in seats” outlook, and simply can’t believe that employees can be equally productive if not sat right at their desk all day. (Seriously, give your people a bit more credit!)
The truth is that the entire premise of our 9-5, eight-hour workdays are a farce and have never really proven to be the only way of doing things. It could even be argued that the “modern” office is ridiculously outdated and still based on the way things were in the 18th Century. Back then, people were required to come together to operate machinery during the Industrial Revolution – the days were long and unforgiving, and productivity required people to be gathered together in one place. Then, in the 1920s, Henry Ford popularized the 40-hour work week, and America eventually legislated it in the 1930s. Even he knew productivity didn’t require 16-hour days. The issue is that since then – nearly 100 years ago – things still haven’t changed.
Except… so much has changed. Where we once relied on the office that housed the technology we needed, we now have these digital tools at home or in our pocket all day (unless, you know, we accidentally leave it at a café or something).
The good thing about Covid-19 is it has basically proven the way we work to be bulls***, too. Actually, it’s been proven many times before, but COVID made it apparent to everyone. Here’s one study that found workers in the UK only work 3 hours a day at the office anyway, and here’s another saying Singaporean workers only spend 60% of their time on their work duties in the office, too.
Now the world has flipped, and with the exception of some jobs, many can be done anywhere. Attendance doesn’t matter and people actually prefer working like this. Even at Mutant, when we polled our teams across Singapore and Malaysia recently, we found:
- 90% agree / strongly agree that they are as productive when working from home
- 87% feel highly motivated to work from home
- 68% enjoy the increased flexibility
- 77% enjoy not having to commute
- 95% say they’re getting enough support from their direct manager remotely
We’ve seen this in action and it’s worked. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things to work on, though. For example, 46% of our Mutant staff feel isolated from their colleagues and miss working with them, and 32% find it hard to set a clear schedule to get stuff done when working from home. But knowing this is half the battle and it means we can approach our ‘new way of working’ with actual, real, flexibility.
There might be risks involved for some businesses, sure, but the rewards are high if your workforce is happy and productive. No one’s going to get it 100% right all the time, but work will still get done. People will be happy to have power over their hours. They will feel satisfied that you trust them to get their work done in the best way for them. They will reward you with fantastic work.
Flexible working doesn’t mean the hard work stops; it simply means the empty pursuit of “balance” is uncovered for what it really is – bulls***.
We can’t promise “balance”, but we’re fans of harmony and flexibility. Talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.