The Changing Workscape: Working the Flexible Way

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Study after study, survey after survey, all the research shows that professional workers are willing to forgo a lot, particularly in terms of pay/compensation, in exchange for a flexible work situation.

Many companies offer flexible work arrangements – however slowly (and it is slow, almost imperceptible, according to the Families and Work Institute’s (FWI) 2012 National Study of Employers Report, which states that less than three percent of salaried employees work mainly from home while 90 percent of job seekers state that “flexibility” is one of the most important factors in their search), the trend is moving in that direction. This is not true across the board, of course, and probably depends quite a lot on the company, the particular job and all kinds of internal factors. Many companies allow employees to negotiate flexible hours or work-at-home days, particularly once they have worked in a company for long enough to prove their worth and responsibility. I have seen this work in my favour in most of my professional situations, especially working in Scandinavia. FWI data may support the idea that the job market and its employers are not bending over backwards to offer flexible options to employees, but I’d argue that – so far – it is simply not something that has been accepted en masse or as de rigueur. Flexible arrangements are often negotiated today on an individual level – but eventually we will hopefully see companies begin to embrace the demand for flexibility – the talent out there is hungry for it.

A Today.com article cites a 2012 Mom Corps survey that explains that almost half of working adults would choose a lower salary/pay cut in order to gain more flexibility. Just over 50 percent went so far as to state that they would consider starting their own businesses to facilitate the kind of freedom and flexibility they value.

Over on the Officevibe website, there’s an article discussing the top ten reasons why a company’s employee engagement program will fail – high atop the list is the “lack of focus on intrinsic motivation”. This aligns with the idea that employees are motivated from within by factors that are often much more complex – and possibly easier to work with – than money. Virtually every study or article will highlight that monetary compensation is important – but it is not what gets most professional and creative people out of bed in the morning. (Needless to say this article has a lot of good points about what hinders employee engagement.)

The findings are further echoed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and its study in 2012, as reported, for example, in the Financial Times and The American Interest blog: flexible work arrangements were the number one employee priority.

And while it’s clear that employees are asking for flexwork and would benefit from it, there is also a very clear business case for it – employee happiness and satisfaction leading to employee retention, higher productivity and being able to choose and keep the cream of the crop in terms of employee talent. A 2012 Forbes article champions these same employee morale-building-and-boosting principles but points out that allowing for flexibility is not technically a benefit the company offers to employees because it actually costs no money and can end up saving the company money – directly and indirectly.

With surveys, data and studies that go back for years showing both the tangible benefits and the demand for flexwork, I struggle still to understand why adoption has been so slow in the real world.

Why I Changed My Mind: Cheesy TV Action Shows

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We can’t be highbrow all the time, can we? My personal tastes – those that really speak to me and mean something to me – seem to align with the PBS and arthouse/foreign film crowd. But, as a multitasker, I like mindless entertainment to play in the background while I focus on other things. This realization dawned on me after quite some time, when I finally succumbed to the fairly harmless and unrealistic lure of TV action shows.

At some point I fell under the charming and sometimes hilarious spell of Burn Notice. Stretching believability in every episode, I could set aside all concerns about reality, what could actually happen and suspend all highbrow notions and get lost in the Miami world of burned CIA covert officer, Michael Westen, and his merry band of vigilante co-conspirators. The show had a number of one-time and running jokes (notably, when Tyne Daly guest starred to play opposite series regular Sharon Gless, reuniting the TV cop duo Cagney & Lacey; the character Sam Axe – played by the inimitable Bruce Campbell – always gave his cover identities the name “Chuck Finley”, which is not funny and means nothing to non-baseball fans). Burn Notice went on for a number of seasons, and though it ended in a satisfactory way, and I thought I was ready for it to end – I miss my mindless action show!

I have shifted my allegiances and started watching the remake of Hawaii Five-0, which is actually full of fun and interesting characters. Not deep characters, not deep stories, not great acting. But it’s enough to fill the need for mindless laughs and action. Scott Caan uses humor to escape the shadow of his actor father, James Caan and plays well off his counterpart and Five-0 partner, Steve McGarrett, played by Alex O’Loughlin (I’d only seen him in the late, great The Shield before this). I am thrilled to see Grace Park in this after her killer role in one of my all-time favorites, Battlestar Galactica. With all the cast chemistry, casual fun, Hawaiian views (me being an island-born Honolulu girl), the updated version of the original theme song (who doesn’t love that?) and Magnum PI references, this should satisfy my need.

But it does not quite fill the hole left by Burn Notice – and none of the other mindless shows out there (action or no) quite fill the void.

Made in Sweden – It might surprise you

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Most people have clear ideas of things that are Swedish – Volvo, IKEA, Abba. It’s also easy, being in Sweden, to imagine that everyone knows what’s Swedish and what isn’t. But I realized that there are a few things that are very much Swedish that a lot of people (outside Sweden and Scandinavia) don’t realize. Even some really major companies.

H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) – Late last year when I was in the US, a giant new H&M store was opening in a shopping mall near where my parents live. I had to explain to virtually everyone that it’s a Swedish giant. No one I talked to seemed to have a clue. One person thought it was Dutch; another thought, improbably, Korean. But no one guessed Swedish.

Spotify – Spotify has spread all over the world to become almost like the “Google” of streaming music, i.e. synonymous with the idea of streaming music the way Google is with search. But people outside Scandinavia seem blissfully unaware of the Swedish roots of the near-ubiquitous Spotify service.

Skype – Skype revolutionized instant communications. But again, an everyday convenience and household name technology is not recognized outside northern Europe as a Swedish invention.

Tetra Pak –You probably use Tetra Pak or some facsimile of it every day without knowing it – but probably did not know that the paper-based packaging, developed in Sweden, was a revolutionary change in packaging.

Electrolux – the world’s second-largest appliance company. You know, all the white goods!

And a little older …

Celsius scale – Swede Anders Celsius invented the 100-point thermometer scale used globally.

Music falling on the spooky, dark, winter-wonderland drive

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I arrived home after three+ hours of driving to trudge through ankle-deep snow – snow is everywhere. No big surprise. I cannot complain – winter did not come until late this year.

To get here to this calm, quiet, still cottage in the woods, I drove through some unpleasant conditions. All day in Gothenburg the temperature hovered around 0C while a snowy-sleet fell all day, creating a dubious, slick concoction on the road. It was a harrowing, treacherous drive at various points.

I actually break the trip into thirds. The first third is all motorway, which was largely clear – but it was extremely windy, trafficky and the further north I drove, the thicker the snow that started to fall (and the thicker the layer that already covered the ground).

The second of the three parts of my trip starts to become more winding and rural but is still not the worst part. There were a few blinding snow flurries, and the wind, particularly when crossing large open fields, blew mountains of snow up from the roadway into the line of vision.

By the final leg of the trip, which consists of considerably more rugged roads, winding, hilly and unkept, snow and wind were whirling, mildly blizzard-like, the roads were covered – no lines visible at all. The two vehicles that got behind me expressed their displeasure and impatience with my caution with some angry tailgating. My caution was warranted – in three different spots on the road, large groups of deer were just standing in the road. If I had not been going as slowly as I was, we’d have just plowed right into them.

There was a time, long ago, that driving in these kinds of conditions would have scared the hell out of me. I have let go of the fear and nervousness and embraced a healthy respect for the force of weather and just moved forward. Good advice for most things.

Yo – here’s another little piece of advice…Reggie Watts – “Fuck Shit Stack

Advice: “Sing your life – any fool can think of words that rhyme

I ask virtually every person I meet to sing for me. Mostly to see what their reaction will be. I like to know what people will do in that kind of unexpected situation. Most people are pretty shy and won’t just break into song. Some need coaxing, such as the shy boy from Karlstad who eventually sang – and once he started could not stop, with lovely patriotic songs about Värmland. Some, like an old ex, would never do it at all. Others burst into enthusiastic singing immediately, such as an Egyptian doctor I once met who sang a long and mournful-sounding song in Arabic; my lovely French friend who regaled me with a most rousing version of one of the worst songs I have ever heard, “Mon fils ma bataille” while waiting on the train platform at Aulnay-sous-Bois after he misguided us and put us on the wrong train to the airport, and then the people who are musicians already – they are always ready to go with a song.

Of late I got to hear the most intentionally whiny, horrible version of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”. I can’t stop thinking about it and laughing. It is especially good because the guy singing it to me is Scottish, and he is snide and sneering about it and puts a special emphasis on the word “world” – making it sound like it has a whole lot more syllables in it than it actually does. My god, I love it.