To succeed in a post-COVID world, businesses need to get rid of their flexible working fears.
The idea of work-life balance is misleading at best.
Flexibility has been the domain of working mothers trying to juggle their personal and professional lives. Or it’s given as a reward for long service, good work, or a recruitment tactic that is guaranteed to pull in Best Employer awards.
Prior to COVID-19, flexibility required employees to find ‘balance’ within a predetermined set of rules and accepted behaviours. They could have balance…but not too much of it. Stick around the office, or you won’t get that coveted promotion! Flexible working hours, but don’t come in later than 11am!
With the whole world working from home, the secret is out. “Balance” is a flawed concept, and people can get lots of work done from the comfort of their beds or chairs, without seeing their colleagues and bosses for months.
The concept of balance is flawed
To benefit from true flexibility as a business, you have to understand that there are many holes in the concept of “balance. As per its very definition, balance sounds like something that is completely 50/50. If not, it wouldn’t be called balanced. When we talk about several facets of balance — a balanced diet, relationship, division between and lfe, it suggests that these things are perfectly proportioned. However..
No one eats exactly 50% “healthy” food and 50% “unhealthy” food.
No one’s relationship dynamics are 50/50, that is, perfectly equal.
And no one lives by spending exactly 50% of their time at work, and 50% at home.
Balance is not a thing. What we are looking for is harmony, or blend. Or whatever jargon best suits your needs. This is how we must approach flexibility.
Consider it this way: a single human being has a maximum capacity of 100% , and their entire life must be conducted within this 100%. Like a sliding scale, sometimes the marker is all the way up towards “work”, and other times it will swing towards “family”, or “studying” or “relationship, or something that does not involve work.
This is a more realistic and manageable approach for both people and businesses. Most people don’t have balance over anything in their lives, but they can choose how to conduct a harmonious life or blend of activities, if given the option.
This autonomy over how they achieve the work they’re tasked with is what everyone really wants.
So what about productivity?
Many employers, especially in traditional industries and countries with a traditional work culture, believe flexibility gives people the chance to be lazy. Presenteeism culture reigns supreme, and too many leaders still believe that a higher headcount in office translates to greater productivity. They simply cannot believe that employees can be equally productive even if they were not at their desks all day.
The truth is that the entire premise of our 9-5, eight-hour workdays are a farce and have never really proven to be the only way of doing things. It could even be argued that the “modern” office is ridiculously outdated and still based on the way things worked in the 18th Century.
Back then, people were required to operate machinery – the days were long and unforgiving, and productivity required them to be gathered in one place.
In the 1920s, Henry Ford popularised the 40-hour work week, and America eventually legislated it in the 1930s. Even he knew productivity didn’t require 16-hour days. Nearly 100 years later, things still haven’t changed much.
Excep…so much has changed. Where we once relied on the office that housed the technology we needed, we now have these digital tools at home.
COVID-19 has altered our perceptions of work and productivity. Now the world has flipped, and with the exception of some jobs, many can be done from places outside the office. Attendance doesn’t matter and people actually prefer working like this. Even at Mutant, when we polled our teams across Singapore and Malaysia recently, we found:
- 90% agree / strongly agree that they are as productive when working from home
- 87% feel highly motivated to work from home
- 68% enjoy the increased flexibility
- 77% enjoy not having to commute
- 95% say they’re getting enough support from their direct manager remotely
It doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. For example, 46% of our Mutant staff feel isolated from their colleagues and miss working with them. 32% find it hard to set a clear schedule to get stuff done when working from home. But knowing this is half the battle and it means we can tweak our ‘new way of working’ with actual, real, flexibility.
There might be risks involved for some businesses, sure, but the rewards are high if your workforce is happy and productive. It won’t be a perfect strategy at first, but work will still get done. People will be happy if they have power over their hour and feel satisfied that you trust them to get their work done in the best way for them.
Flexible working doesn’t mean the hard work stops; it simply means the flaws of the concept of “balance” are uncovered, and a better, smarter way of getting things done is unearthed.
We can’t promise “balance”, but we’re fans of harmony and flexibility. Talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.