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.”