One of the three core drivers to Dynamic Work is Environmental especially through the carbon footprint reduction of reduced commuting and business travel. Anyone who takes a serious interest in this side must read the definitive work on the energy calculus (which being primarily hydro-carbon fed is also directly proportionate to carbon impact), must read the definitive, authoritative, objective and comprehensive analysis ‘Without Hot Air.’ It breaks through the myths of the Green movement and Establishment intransigents. It is the Rosetta Stone of the cacophonous eco-debate.
If one really wants to understand the simple, cold numbers about energy production and consumption, current and potential, in the world today, it is the definitive, objective work. It puts into perspective all of the various components of ‘greening’ one life. It takes no issue with people who want to do every little thing to help, but in the concept of broader strategy and policy, it makes the compelling point that scale and perspective are essential. One can be penny-wise and pound foolish. One can expend lots of energy and focus on low yield initiatives (or even counter productive ones), when certain other initiatives deliver much bigger gains. Author David MacKay contradicts the common refrain of activists who say ‘every little helps’. He asserts, the reality is that ‘every big helps.’
In this fully objective, very comprehensive catalogue of energy outgoings by worldwide society, the second biggest use of energy is car travel. Car travel, especially in the context of commuting and other business travel, is a major benefit to Dynamic Work where workers’ activities are more closely aligned to ‘where they are available.’
You can count on Scott Adams, and his Dilbert strip, to have his finger on the pulse of the most current trends, as well as the curious frustrations and ironies they present. Here’s a recent strip touching on the topic of ‘home working’ with insightful commentary on key (and sometime illogical) obstacles (perceptions, jealousy, status, ego).
The irony of the strip is that the group apparently precluded from ‘working at home’ are the ‘admins’. The perception of the ‘office bound’ nature of this worker group is quite common. When I speak to companies about the potential in their organisation for flexible working, I will ask for the most difficult role to take away from the desk and out of the office. It doesn’t really prove much to show how road warrior roles like sales people can work remotely, but people are more interested when you tackle the toughest cases. If the toughest ones can be cracked, then by implication just about any role seems up for consideration.
One of the most frequently proposed ‘tough case’ are the admins. And yet when you dissect exactly what they do on a daily basis, one sees that a lion’s share of their responsibilities have little location basis, Fielding calls, organising appointments, chasing administrative tasks, screening email can all be done just about anywhere just as effectively. The two key tasks that appear desk bound are (a) pseudo-receptionist (ie. physically guarding the gate to respond to people who physically stop by the office), and (b) finding stuff (‘hey, I left a piece of paper on my desk…can you see if you can find it and read it to me’). The thing is that these tasks seem urgent and critical at the time, but under consideration are rather low priority, low business value, low frequency activities.
Still, when egos and emotions get involved, lots of illogic develops. And I think Adams perfectly captures the all too prevalent resignation and passivity of timid managers: “When you find a big kettle of crazy, it’s best not to stir it.”
The more I speak to people active in workplace and work-practice innovation, all fingers point to the Netherlands as the hotbed of the most advanced and leading edge work in this area. That is certainly the case in the Microsoft organisation. Earlier this summer, I spoke with one of the early leaders of the Microsoft Netherlands’ ‘Work Place Advantage’ initiative, Robert Tempels. He shared with me more background behind the early thinking and some of the keys to the success.
Tempels talked about the outset which was a critical phase to laying down the foundations for success. Microsoft Netherlands started with a survey of the status quo. They then sat down and developed a set of ‘ambitions’ (9 in total) for the project. These ‘ambitions’ eventually became the acid-tests for all decisions. Whenever there was a disagreement on an issue, the group referred back to the ‘ambitions’ and asked what direction would best support the ambitions. The next step was to enlist the support from ‘both the top and bottom.” Many staff from all corners of the business got engaged, while the leadership, starting with the very top general manager of the country, led by example being the first ones to adopt the new work practices and eliminate their offices.
“You need people being passionate from the bottom up and committed leadership from the top down.”
The biggest change was not the physical environment at all though. Instead it was more of a cultural one. It was getting people to move from managing ‘activities’ to managing ‘outcomes.’ From everyone having lots of ‘generic’ tools, to people having a few ‘optimised’ tools (and sharing any other tools needed periodically).
Now, Microsoft Netherlands is a major destination not just within the Netherlands but from around Europe of people going to see the extent and approach with which the office has implemented these workplace innovations. Robert has done lots of presenting and tours on their experience to many customers and partners. He gets lots of questions and concerns from many different corners. One example that he shared of a bank struggling with these concept reminded me of my own experience which I posted about in ‘Tech Savvy Heavy Hitters.’ The bank was convinced that remote and flexible working was out of the question because of super strict security constraints which kept people from taking their computers out of the office. After some discussion with various staff, Tempels uncovered that the unbeknownst to the lock-down confident IT department, the staff had found a way to circumvent these constraints anyway. It turns out that each evening before leaving home, the staff were emailing key documents to their personal Gmail accounts so they could pick them up on their home computer and work on them there. This ingenuity underscored the powerful demand for flexible and remote working that was present in the firm as well as the over-estimation of just how secure one could be without the buy-in of the staff themselves.
Tempels has now taken his experience and passion for the area to local ‘Work Councils’ where he contributes expertise on how flexibility and mobility in the workplace can drive down carbon footprints.
I have been supporting the Working Families organisation for a number of years as a ‘Changemaker’ member. The mission of the organisation is so completely aligned with particularly the social benefits of Dynamic Work. The group “helps children, working parents and carers and their employers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work.” Their latest publication is ‘Tomorrow’s World’ which takes a forward perspective on trends and directions in the industry to help firms prepare and adapt for the changing environment and challenges.
The publication also features a piece which I contributed titled “Top 10 Myths of Flexible Working”. I’ll feature one of the ‘myths’ here as a taster…
“Myth #4 – People abuse it to skive off.” Actually, in the flexible work environment the more pervasive problem that actually transpires is not people doing to little work, but actually doing too much – the ‘crackberry’ syndrome of not knowing when to turn off. While some eager managers might welcome this 24/7 productivity, it does require managing and tempering. It can be a simple problem to moderate with some coaching. One of the key changes to adopting flexible working is having a management-by-objective (MBO) culture. Look at more areas to manage performance based on outcomes and the ‘how’ of the work becomes much more versatile.”
I was discussing this particular myth with a several partners recently and they concurred with the upshot. One noted that there were poor performers who abused the system in the current conventional working environment and they just shift their tactics in a new, flexible environment. Another noted that it is not the environment or even the pretence of supervision or discipline that pre-empts abuse, but rather motivation. In the world of ‘knowledge’ work. At worst, someone can be sat at their desk all day watching YouTube (And if your IT department filters out the obvious websites, then they find others. And if the IT department switches off the Internet entirely, then it really is very difficult to do most professional jobs in this day and age). At best, someone can be staring at a screen and not thinking productive thoughts, but thinking about the footie, last night at the pub or whatever. The point is that just keeping an eye on someone sitting at a desk is a pretty outdated and ineffectual means of optimising productivity and effectiveness. Flexible work can be a catalyst to introducing not just enhancements to work life, but also enhancements to management effectiveness.
Dynamic Work saves economic, ecological as well as social costs, and one dimension of those savings in two areas (economic, social) are the health benefits to flexible working.
The Times covered a study on this topic with a number of personal profiles as illustrations.
“For the first time, our survey has analysed the effects of the daily commute on people’s overall feelings of wellbeing. The results are clear. The longer people spend travelling to and from work, the more their health appears to suffer. In previous years, we have looked at the impact of overtime, but travel times have almost identical effects on work-life balance. At least when employees work long hours, the boss might notice and it is a sign that they are stimulated by their job and regard it as an important part of their life. But endless hours commuting have only a negative effect.”
“The figures are stark: for every two hours that people spend travelling each week, the result for questions on wellbeing goes down by 1.2% on average. People who spend up to two hours a week travelling have an average wellbeing score of 65.4%. For those who spend more than 14 hours a week on the road or in trains, the wellbeing score is just 57.4%. Dr Pete Bradon, director of research at Best Companies Ltd, says that the similarities between the ill effects of overtime and commuting are astonishing. ‘The things most affected by travel time – health, pressure, stress and work-life balance – are exactly the same as with overtime. But there is a compensation with overtime. People say their work is more stimulating, and they gain experience. That all makes sense. The downside of travel is that you don’t get any positive benefits. If your boss sees you doing an extra three hours in the office, he has a great opinion of you but if you drive for three hours a day, he may just think you are an idiot.”
One of the companies profiled was Microsoft UK speaking with my former colleague Theresa McHenry…
“The figures suggest that flexibility about home working is a solution to the problem of commuting. When people can work one day a week from their “home office”, personal growth scores rise by 13.7%, people feel better about their company (up 12.4%) and about the fair deal they are getting (a rise of 11.7%). Reading-based Microsoft UK has 92% of staff doing up to 60% of work from home. Theresa McHenry, who works in training and development, spent 15 years commuting in and out of London. Now she appreciates the chance to work from home. ‘It is the overcrowding and unreliability of trains and Tubes. In the car, you can choose when to leave home, and Microsoft is completely flexible about when you come and go. I work from home one day a week for my own health, but I do use my hour-long drive to and from Reading to prepare and decompress. You can’t do that on a train when you have an inch of personal space.’ “