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The flexible workplace: Avoiding tyranny and anarchy



By Brian McDonough, Discover Performance managing editor


Frequent blog contributor Joshua Brusse just posted an article on the main Discover Performance site about flex work, and why it is, and should be, the way of the future. Letting people work outside of standard hours, and take breaks within the 9-to-5 routine, improves creativity, productivity, and satisfaction, he says.


HP is a global company, and certainly everyone here has logged on to answer emails at night or on a weekend from a colleague half a world away to keep a project moving, and we occasionally take a meeting out of standard office hours to accommodate far-flung collaboration. But we asked for more details about striking the right balance for workers and companies.


Q: First question: How do flex workers, or their managers, make sure “work whenever” doesn’t become “work forever”?

Joshua Brusse: Flex work is a massive cultural change that requires more discipline than people assume. As a manager, I require my staff to respond in 24 hours with an acknowledgement that they have seen my request and an indicator when they will return the outcome. We can negotiate that deadline, but I never expect my staff to return something without discussing when they can do so. That’s also outcome-based management/measurement—focusing on when I’ll see results, not when the hours get logged. Answering email is the same: You can agree on a response time (24 hours, 48 hours, whatever) like it’s a service-level agreement.

Flex work is about delivering an outcome on time, on budget, and of quality—without demanding that it be done in the office between 9 am and 5 pm. I work 45 hours a week, and my manager can see that on my calendar. My manager knows we need to negotiate deadlines, and that I can’t be expected to accept meetings that are planned ad-hoc. But if it’s well-planned, I’ll dial in for a global team meeting at 11 pm and sleep a little late the next morning.


Q: That must take some discipline, both in planning your own life and collaborating with others.

JB: Definitely. Discipline in time-management and meeting management are crucial. At HP, our calendars are visible to one another, which helps with cross-time-zone scheduling. I’ve got to be diligent about keeping my calendar up to date, not just with work meetings, but with my Tuesday morning badminton sessions, for instance. That discipline is part of finding a flexible work-life integration.


Q: You emphasize that employers need to have concrete policies for flex work, rather than an ad-hoc approach. Does that mean, for instance, setting rules about minimum presence in the office during traditional hours?

Brusse.jpgJB: That really depends on the maturity of the employee. Some need to be forced to come to the office (but only for a while—eventually they tend to want to come in more), others will come because they like to meet, they need to meet. Organizing events like getting together for lunch or drinks when a project closes, or holding a dinner when the financial quarter closes, marking birthdays in the office, slating strategy sessions—there are lots of ways to organically get people together frequently. I don’t advocate a general rule because I haven’t seen the need, for most people, to do it that way.


HP consultant Joshua Brusse has more than 20 years’ experience in all aspects of running IT as a business. Read his full article, “Kill the time clock,” and leave a comment about your attitude—or your employer’s—toward flex work. And check out Discover Performance in the next two weeks for more articles from Brusse on the future of work.

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