Working Diversely

Cool Women

 

International Women’s Day today. A day to celebrate the distinctive gifts and challenges women around the world share across all facets of life including the workplace. One of my favourite pieces marking the day is the video posted on my other blog, Maldives Complete. So inspired were we that my wife Lori and I bought the art piece Dhaalu Girl featured in the video from the artist Aishath Aima Mustafa (her first art sale).

The BNET piece ‘Why Men and Women Work Differently’ highlights a few of the differences women present and face. The kind of differences that a Dynamic Working organisation can accommodate so readily. Unfortunately, I find that well-meaning pieces like this simply reinforce cultural and sexist stereotypes. I endorse the article for raising insights as to how people can differ in approaches, but I disapprove of the gender pigeonholing. It is not about respecting “women’s” multi-taking and nurturing. It is about respecting anyone’s multi-tasking and nurturing (I’m actually a pretty accomplished multi-tasker, eg. I exercise, listen to podcasts and organise the garage simultaneously each Saturday).

Respect for ‘diversity’ (and Dynamic Work) is less about ‘men and women’ working differently, and more about how *everybody* works differently. Gender is just one prominent and conventional variable. Diversity programmes which slap on a few female-specific accommodations do a disservice to women in the end as well as to the rest of the staff and the business itself.

I recommend Cash Justin Miller’s “The Advantages of Cultural Diversity in Business” (thank Eileen). ‘Cultural diversity’, as well is not merely ethnic nor geographical differences, but any difference in upbringing, experience, tradition or background. When this level of diversity is respected, the consideration of gender will be a non-issue..

Asset-Light

Asset Heavy Mary Meeker KPCB 1

  

Tis the season for year end reviews. And one of the more intriguing collections I have seen is the “Top 10 Trends Presentations for 2013”. A good chance to see how the pundits view the progress of the Dynamic Work trend.

One of my favourite trend-ologists, Mary Meeker, of KPCB, added an entire section to her annual trend review titled “Asset-Light Generation” (slide 59). It is essentially ‘Dynamic Work’ expanded from the professional and corporate environment to a full lifestyle perspective. ‘Dynamic Life’ if you will.

She starts off noting “Asset-Heavy lifestyle consumes space, time and money.” It is a vision of the virtualisation of nearly everything including Music, Video, Housing, Transport, Services, Textbooks, Wallets, and (of course) Employment (see below).

 

Asset Heavy Mary Meeker KPCB 2

Dynamic Perks

Perks of Working from Home

On the benefits of Dynamic Working, I’ve presented studies, charts, arguments, case studies. But the vogue medium on the Web these days are Infographics. Fortunately, that boundless source of material, Portfolio Working, shared a superb one (part of which is shown above…click to see entire) recently (thanks Katie).

When working on a Dynamic Work engagement with Betfair, the one group of staff that was most reluctant to doing any remote work were the developers. They enumerated reasonable concerns about the machine power required for their work unavailable on a laptop and the need for regular interaction. I wasn’t sure, but I opened my mind to possible limitations for Dynamic Working for this segment. As such, I introduced such concepts cautiously to the Red Bee Piero organisation I subsequently joined. But in the end, the results have been as strong and positive as any other team I have ever introduced them to.

First of all, not everyone wants the option to work remotely and that’s fine. Those folks just continue with the status quo as a few have. Secondly, Piero has probably one of the highest spec technical platforms of any PC-based systems (Dual Quad-cores with special graphics accelerator board), and yet we have been able to find an HP model on which it operates just fine. Finally, the team has coordinated to have days where they make sure they are all in so they can have the interactions, consultations and collaborations. But on days some choose to work from home, they report more concentration, less distractions and time/energy saved from an eliminated commute resulting in general happier staff and the productivity has been great.

Dynamic Employment

USA map of home working concentrations

 

What is Obama’s Achilles Heel in the current election? What is the one issue and statistic that Romney keeps returning to with the most effectiveness? Employment. It’s an equally big issue weighing over just about every world leader from Greece to Egypt. People want jobs. And young people – with energy, vigour and dreams – are disproportionately anxious for them.

Dynamic Work holds great promise as a tool for increasing employment. By allowing companies to make more productive use of workers, their ROI and business case justification becomes easier. By introducing greater flexibility in commercial terms, companies can take o more workers at less longer term risk.

These assertions were underscored by a recent statistics released by the UK’s Office for National Statistics. Kevin Green, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation commented

“More people in work than ever before and the lowest unemployment in over a year is another significant step on the road to recovery. The truly amazing thing is that during the past year of a technical recession, and in spite of austerity and public sector cuts, the UK has created half a million jobs. The job numbers are being driven by flexible working – the number of full time posts has grown but the increase in temps and part-time workers has been even greater. Too many people talk down the value of part-time work, but it’s here in black and white – over 80 per cent of part-time employees chose to work that way.

The counter claim to these promising numbers is that such ‘part time’ work is really offers less pay and less security. But, the higher pay and higher quality may come in the total ‘portfolio’ of employment rather than in a specific job. The bartending actor whose glass washing enables his dream pursuing.

A US Census Bureau report “Higher-income workers have more work-at-home flexibility” provided further evidence of standard of living quality for flexible workers in both monetary and non-monetary terms…

’Mixed’ workers who work both at home and in an office are generally affluent, with median household income of $96,300, according to census data. That compares with median household income of $74,000 for people who always work at home and $65,600 for people who always work onsite, the researchers reported. Nearly half of the people who worked at home exclusively were self-employed, but experts say there are other explanations for why those who work from home make less. Some employers are finding that especially among younger workers, the ability to work at home and forgo a gruelling commute is such a beneficial perk that they are willing to accept a lower starting salary in exchange for it.”

The morale of the story is that countries need ‘Dynamic’ leadership now more than ever before.

World Cup Time Out

World Cup

Not all time is created equal.

This reality is the problem with conventional time-motion productivity analysis. Perhaps in the 20th century Industrial Age of the assembly line manufacturing plant and paperwork factories and even a simpler, more routine home life, hours were more consistent. But the hour one spends getting married, watching a child win their first sports game or watching your favourite team in an international competition is not the same as 60 minutes sitting in traffic, sitting in a routine meeting or ploughing through administrative chores.

In a truly ‘free market’ of hours, staff and employers would have the ability to trade hours according to their value. A staffer might trade 2 hours of conventional work for 1 hour off to watch the World Cup. A company might trade 2 hours of conventional work for 1 hour of crisis handling on the weekend. In fact, the employer sort of has this kind of ‘marketplace’ in wage workplace where they can pay time-and-a-half and double-time for highly valued time periods.

Unfortunately, most workers usually do not have a corresponding ability to bid for time off.  The problem is more difficult with exempt workers. They are paid a fixed salary and can be almost an implicit assumption that ‘all time’ is the company’s time (depending on the culture).

While the grand spectacle of the World Cup has given rise to a bunch of reports of ‘lost productivity’ fear mongering amongst the chattering fourth estate. “World Cup Could Cost UK £4 Billion” Most of these attention grabbing articles are based on out-dated logic that an hour is an hour. That people will find ways to watch the games, the games are during conventional work hours, ergo time is lost and time is money so money is lost.

More enlightened and innovative companies are using the World Cup to introduce some special work practices and bonuses to its workers like Asda and Screwfix. One of Microsoft’s leading partners and winner of the UK Best Place to Work 2010, Softcat, is showing how it is done by hosting World Cup viewing parties in their offices. No one is skiving off work today at Softcat! (and probably hardly ever do with that kind of enlightened approach).

Businesses should be looking at the World Cup as the least expensive staff morale opportunity to come along. Because fans will highly value their time watching the games above all else, they will value the hour given to them much more than the hour of elapsed clock time actually costs the company.

A classic win-win. Just like the England-USA 1-1 result for me as a UK-USA dual citizen. Perfect.

Furlough Fridays

Furlough Fridays

When you start to talk to people about Dynamic Work, people tend to jump to thinking about it as either ‘home working’ or maybe ‘flexi-time’ which are relatively familiar concepts. But actually, those examples only illustrate 2 of the 4 ‘Flexibility’ dimensions to Dynamic Work, namely Geography and Time. The other two – Role and Commercials are less familiar. The Wall Street Journal’s recent piece on ‘Furlough Fridays’ is a great example of Commercial (ie.  terms of remuneration and reward) flexibility that can be a win-win for staff and organisations alike.

“This is ‘Furlough Friday’ and it's becoming a staple around the country as state governments force workers to take a weekly day off—usually Friday—to help bridge budget gaps. The loss of a day's work, and as much as 15% of a worker's pay, is forcing families to tighten their belts. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has put state workers on Friday furloughs since February 2009 and most furloughs are expected to persist as long as July.”

“Friday furloughs are producing an unexpected dividend for many of these workers: Marketers have discovered them. The Boreal ski area near Lake Tahoe offers a ‘Frickin' Friday’ $15 ticket for furloughed California employees; the normal adult lift price is $47. Don Hutchens, a state highway contractor, said it cost only $30 for him and his wife to snowboard all day while their young son and a friend did so for free. ‘It's the best deal in town,’ said a smiling Mr. Hutchens, as he toted his board to the parking lot. ‘You can't beat it.’ “

The danger with ‘Furlough Fridays’ is that when combined with Friday becoming a day of choice for ‘Work From Home’, bosses (and staff themselves) could confuse those with the day truly off and those who are supposed to be getting in productive work. Already many bosses consider ‘Work From Home’ Fridays as ‘Shirk From Home’ and lots of people on the ski slopes could mistakenly reinforce that perception.

Healthier and Happier

Cochrane Collaboration 

One of the major areas of benefit from Dynamic Working, along with saving money and helping the environment, is boosting staff welfare. The most direct benefits involve increased satisfaction, work/life balance, and reduced time lost to commuting. All of these benefits should lead to healthier, happier workforce. As it turns out, the UK non-profit research organisation The Cochrane Collaboration recently concluded a study which validated the ‘healthier’ hypothesis with their study titled “Flexible working conditions and their effects on employee health and wellbeing” which was released last month.

“Overall, the findings tentatively suggest that giving workers more choice or control over their working patterns is likely to have positive effects. The researchers found evidence that self-scheduling of shift interventions and employee-controlled partial/early retirement improved health outcomes, including systolic blood pressure and heart rate, tiredness, mental health, sleep duration, sleep quality and alertness and self-rated health status. Improvements were also noted in well-being, such as co-workers' social support and sense of community.”

The rising costs of health care is probably the most prominent issue in American politics at the moment and concerns about the NHS here in the UK are also quite high, especially as both countries face aging populations with increasing incidence of lifestyle health problems. Dynamic Work can be a part of the solution to this intractable and costly problem.

Crofting

Crofting

Dynamic Work asserts that how one brings together different people and roles as well as physical assets can be very flexible. But can the actual work content of an individual person be flexible? Or does their role or contribution have to be a constant unit which can then be brought into the mix of the total output in a range of flexible ways?

Katie Ledger talks about ‘Portfolio Working’ and Hugh MacLeod talks about ‘crofting’ which are both examples of how individuals can make their own careers and work content more modular and flexible…

“My paternal grandfather was a Scottish Highland “crofter”. He lived on a “croft” i.e. a very small holding of land, where he raised sheep and grew potatoes. I used to spend my summers there as a boy. We were very close. Crofting is a good life, but not a very financially rewarding one. It’s very self-sufficient, though. The interesting thing for me looking back, is that crofters never did “just one thing”. Every day they had something else going on. One day it might be sheep. The next it might be a job working on the roads for the local council. I knew one crofter who drove the mail van. Another who ran the local post office. They would do their jobs, but after work they’d still have their sheep, cows and potatoes to attend to.”

Anti-Neutron Bomb

Fotolia_12574311_XS

I was describing the concepts behind ‘Dynamic Work’ at an event last week and one of the attendees described it as an ‘anti-neutron bomb.’

The ‘neutron bomb’ was a concept floated in the seventies as a military weapon which killed people, but left buildings and structures standing. The term was quickly characterised as a paragon of the inhumanity of war and mankind’s values. The term was most prominently popularised applied to ‘Jack Welch’ whose aggressive manpower reductions and layoffs led to the nickname ‘Neutron Jack’.

By contrast, ‘Dynamic Work’ gets rid of buildings and structures and leaves the people. As my friend Lindsay Hamilton described, ‘you help companies layoff building instead of people.’

‘People-friendly’ downsizing if you will. Just the ticket for a difficult economic times where production often needs to be scaled back, but unemployment is already enough of a problem and one we don’t want to aggravate further. I guess if Jack Welch’s moniker was ‘Neutron Jack’, then my aspiration would be to earn the name ‘Anti-Neutron Bruce’ (curiously, the ‘anti-neutron’ particle was discovered by a guy named ‘Bruce’).

Tomorrow’s Work

Tomorrows World - Working Families

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.