Futurologists are forever trying to anticipate how today’s technologies will shape tomorrow’s working practices. Granted, we’re not at the point where our jobs have been taken over by robots with artificial intelligence, allowing us to enjoy a life of leisure, but communications platforms do allow us to interact and connect in ways we never thought possible. However, for many, the communications revolution hasn’t yet materialised into utopia.
Flexible working may mean liberation from the office, but the downside of being “always on” means many workers never switch off. Home workers in particular may feel an obligation to align to the long hours culture of the office, when the aim of flexibility should be to work more effectively, not just more. Remote and home workers may be connected in the modern sense, but they’re also disconnected from colleagues, office buzz, and opportunities to share problems and collaborate organically. As well as being at risk of social isolation, their reduced visibility to their line manager means these workers may find themselves being overlooked for promotion or training opportunities.
It’s time to regain control of your working life. Below are three tips to help make flexible working work for you.
Tip #1: Put the flexibility back into working
Flexible working has evolved in parallel with the emergence of another dominant trend in the workplace: the long hours culture. Many of us have eliminated wasteful travel time only to spend even more of our day at our desks. Reclaim your life and improve your time management by eliminating time-sinks such as constant email interruptions and unnecessary or pointless meetings, and push back on that indecisive colleague who has to consult you on every minor matter. Make rules for your working day and let people know about them, such as limiting your accessibility to certain hours and not checking emails outside of them. Set aside time for concentrated work, and time to relax and reflect. Take your downtime flexibly as well – working late is more reasonable if you’ve used some of your day to do what you need to do – whether that’s an appointment, staying on top of your laundry, or charity work that gives your life meaning. Lastly, don’t overlook the value of enabling and empowering other people to do aspects of your job, so you don’t feel guilty or obliged to keep your nose to the grindstone during holiday or sickness absence.
Tip #2: Set realistic expectations of technology
People are bringing all kinds of new tools into physical and virtual workplaces, and businesses are facing a huge convergence of old and new, analogue and digital. We’re all so used to the ‘it just works’ experience of consumer technologies that we expect the patchwork of company-issued and consumer devices we use daily to be just as fast and efficient. However, things can move a lot more slowly in the corporate world, considerations like security take priority over the latest gadget or killer app. If you consider yourself tech-savvy, why not help your IT department accelerate progress by offering to participate in user groups and beta testing, or helping to specify business-driven technology initiatives?
Tip #3: Prevent a sense of isolation
Working away from the office and daily contact with colleagues can lead to social isolation for some. The first step is to look at how much interaction you can have with co-workers and customers through virtual meetings. With the addition of HD video, you can feel almost as connected as you would in the office, minus the grind of a commute or the other downsides of a shared workplace, such as office politics, interruptions and irritating colleagues. A video conference doesn’t even have to mean an official meeting – you can have an informal get-together at any time, or use the ‘chat’ facility to catch up with colleagues as you would at the coffee machine in the office. Don’t look exclusively to work for your social contact – think about what other areas of your domestic and community life you can access to enrich your day. And to make sure you’re not “out of sight, out of mind”, communicate frequently with your line manager and flag up training needs, opportunities to expand your role, or any concerns or suggestions you may have.
The future of work is likely to involve more flexibility, more freelancing and more collaboration. But this doesn’t have to result in job insecurity or burn-out. With Generation X managers starting to run the show, tomorrow’s working culture and practices stand to be dictated less by businesses than by workers. Let’s start as we mean to go on.
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