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The Challenges of Flexible Work Trends

Today’s flexible work trends favor the clever, well educated and self–motivated. Trends such as BYOD, MOOC’s, results-only workplace, and Holocracies such as Valve and Spotify emphasis the importance of creative, well executed ideas developed by self-motivated employees.

Flexible work trends have emerged because “scalability” allows organizations to realize large gains from ideas, instead of only operational efficiencies. For example, one clever Tweet can reach millions of people, while thousands of mediocre Tweets can fail to ever be read. Today the value is in creativity — efficiency and even automation are just prerequisites.

Today’s flexible work trends are the opposite of the trends of the 80’s and 90’s that emphasized efficiency and cost cutting: six-sigma, just–in–time, out–sourcing, the great moderation, and leverage buyouts. All of these strategies were about extracting more value from what was already being produced. While, today’s trends and technology place a premium on quality and cleverness over efficiency: typically by creating flexible work environments.

However, today’s work trends are not without problems. We have created a flexible work environment at CAN and here are several of the challenges we have experienced.

1. Mobile Burnout

 If you are able to work all the time, then that becomes the expectation. Co–workers, managers and especially clients will expect that they can reach you, and that you will provide a timely response, i.e. Microsoft’s #GetItDone Campaign. This can leave little time for family, decompressing, and creative work — especially stressful for introverts.

If you can work from anywhere any time, you need to set aside time to think, build deep relationships and just get away. Set your voice mail, auto–responders and your calendar to let people know that you are unavailable because you are working on a project, family time, or just getting away from it all. To be your most creative and valuable you need to invest in decompressing. Also, organizations need to appreciate people that are honest about how they spend their time, and defend people from work–shaming.

2. Security

It is clear that the future of work is not command and control.  Traditional Enterprise IT assumes that users don’t understand technology, what tools they need, and will break the system if allowed. This might have had a time and a place, but not today. Today’s companies are filled with engineers, designers and programmers instead of non-technical workers. So why do we treat knowledge workers the same way we used to treat factory workers at the turn of the 20th century?

Instead companies need to create a work environment around tasks and tools instead of command and control — learn more about the Future of Enterprise IT. CIO’s need to focus on providing a solid base work environment, provide training, and allow employees to work as they see fit. Employees need to know their tasks: the what by when. They also need to understand the tools they need accomplish those tasks.

Companies need to create an environment were users are encouraged to understand and explore technology and how it can be used. In a flexible work environment training instead of command and control is the key to security and productivity. However, you have to hire employees that are motivated to learn and continually improve. It will be hard to succeed if your employees aren’t willing to learn about and use new technologies.

3. Hiring, Training and Integration

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and other popular tech trends are typically practiced by technology firms, or at least companies that expect workers to be fairly technologically savvy. If your typical employees needs to call customer support if they forget or need to reset their password, they probably won’t be able to setup a VPN on their laptop. BYOD typically requires firms to hirer more technical people and provide more training and documentation.

4. Spouse and Family Pressures

Flexible work arrangements can create quite a bit of spouse and family stress, especially if your spouse works at a more traditional company. Issues range from: spouses automatically assuming that their significant other is available for a doctors appointment or too watch the children, to getting upset that their spouse is lazy because they are sleeping until 10am and in the same day mad that worked until 10pm — workaholic!

It is important to talk with your employees about how to talk with their spouse and families about what having a flexible work schedule means. At CAN we make sure that employees, their spouse and their families understand CAN’s work environment before their first day of work.

5. This is not anarchy

Creating a flexible work environment is not about embracing anarchy. In fact, it creates a more competitive environment. Trust and self–motivation become the key. Since you are judged not by who sees you sitting at your desk when, the only measure becomes the quality of your work. This is a terrifying environment for many people, and benefits only a few people that are self–motivated, clever and highly productive. However, in the long-run who do you want working at your company?

In conclusion, we find that the hot trends today don’t apply to most businesses. Unless you make money from creativity and innovation, having a flexible work environment is probably not for your company. However, if you do make money from creativity having a well rested, engaged and equipped organization can produce large returns. It all comes down to how clever do you need your employees to be.

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