The changing workscape: Flex-work options – What if we’re just not doing it right?


Working in an environment that does not invite or encourage an ethos of working where and how one is most productive, it can be difficult to believe that there are companies with flexibility in their DNA. Leaving the flex nature of the small- to medium-size tech enterprises, it did not seem like it would be that vast a cultural chasm to cross because we’re all working in this fast-paced, tech-driven world, aren’t we?

Truth is – no, we aren’t. Tech companies live and die by the technology. A conservative, traditional company operating in selling commodities does not believe it needs to be on the fast-track to digital change (either in how it does business/sells or in how it works internally). For all the grandiose, pie-in-the-sky talk about embracing technology, change and finding new ways of working, leaving that comfortable zone where one has “always had success” doing business is still how things are plugging along. Fundamentally, there is a disparity between the talk of change and innovation and the walk of eschewing change, putting up obstacles and viewing flexibility with suspicion.

It comes down to communication, on some level – first, a company (whatever its size, business or take on flex work) needs to go beyond lip services regardless of what they want. If they want employees to innovate and work where they feel best or chained to their desks 8 to 5, they need to make that clear in an honest and clear way. And employees need to make their needs known as well. Many companies have flex-work policies on the books, but people are afraid to take advantage, fearing being perceived as “not dedicated to their work”.

But, as a Virgin/YouGov survey predicts, we may be moving close to the almost office-free world in the next 20 years. It would be better and easier to start confronting the challenges and barriers now. Starting with the aforementioned and all-important practice of communication. Can we not shake off the stigma of flexible work and be clear about what “flexible work” means and what employers and employees expect of it?

The partial answer, at least for today, is: We’re not there yet. An apt answer for flex and telework (as well as for relationships in the undefined, “budding” stage!).

As with most things, I could ask whether there is actually a right or wrong way to introduce and undertake some of the flexible work options that are out there. Are we doing it right? No, probably not yet. As stated, we’re not there yet in terms of every company jumping on board looking for options – but we are at a stage that most companies have some of their workforce that could be offered flexible options – and the benefits go both ways.

“Flexible work” could mean a host of different things. Telecommuting, near and dear to my heart, alone has tremendous potential for changing the workscape as we know it today. A couple of ZDNet articles grabbed my attention for their focus on bigger societal benefits (not emphasizing the benefits to the individual or even the economic benefits to the companies taking advantage of remote or virtual work). One article made the point: Working at home is going green. The commute is reduced/eliminated – the environmental impact of that could be huge. Right now there are well over 200 million Americans making a daily commute. The second article discussed how policy-level decisions to support telecommuting would incentivize business growth. In this era of lost jobs and economic uncertainty, it does seem like policy change (especially with regard to making taxation more transparent and easy to handle for small home-based businesses, as an example – or making clear deductions possible for those who work from home offices and forgo the commute) would go a long way toward changing the dialogue and figuring out how to get flexwork going  — the right way and for real.

Seeing things: Faces in the wood


It’s been one of those frenzied evenings that is a bit too productive – as evidenced by the sudden disappearance of unanswered emails from my email inbox. In an overzealous and optimistic fit of some sort, I archived a handful of messages and had to go back and find them. Funny how you can think you’re so on top of it, so organized and yet are still doing silly, thoughtless stuff like that.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep (like now) I stare at the ceiling and try to see things in the knots and patterns in the wood. I have never been a visual person (at all) and often don’t see things that are right in front of me – but all my life I have had a strange fascination with staring at pieces of wood or even wood paneling to discern images or – usually – faces. I remember seeing distinct faces in some wood paneling during my childhood and actually feeling some kind of empathy with these people hidden in the wood. One “woman” looked so worried and mysterious. Half of her face was hidden, as though she were standing behind a door, maybe eavesdropping on a conversation in the next room or … who knows what? This was the kind of storytelling that would play itself out in my head as a child (also when I struggled with sleep).

To this day, imagination and any visual inclinations long ago beat out of me, I find faces in wood. Just now I looked up and quite suddenly the knots appeared as the face of a baby seal. Hahaha. I know – it sounds crazy. I cling to this in some way though because it is a kind of creativity that is not really a part of who I am – and I think if I had more discipline or interest, I might be able to focus it better to use it for something more than seeing things that are not there in pieces of wood.

(Makes me think of the ridiculous and bad Jim Carrey film The Mask, when his character takes his wooden mask to someone – to get some answers or something – I don’t know, I barely remember the film – and the Ben Stein character dryly comments, “This is a piece of wood” after Carrey’s character tells him an outlandish tale about what the mask can do. Never in my life did I imagine an occasion on which I would cite The Mask for any reason. Oh, and don’t let it scare you or make you feel old or anything, but The Mask turns 20 this year…).