You can find all kinds of
advice on this website and elsewhere about how to implement a Flexible
Working programme. Here's 12 ways to ensure failure.
1. Don't ask the staff
Send some managers to a
seminar. Let them come back with some new concepts. Let them wield these
concepts like blunt instruments, introducing a heady cocktail of 9-day
fortnights, annualised hours, homeworking and hotdesking.
It might work! But the chances
are if a solution is imposed from above, your Flexible Work project will
have the opposite effect from its intention. Morale will fall.
Productivity will suffer. Staff turnover and absenteeism will increase.
Why? Because you forgot to ask
the staff. So you haven't:
properly assessed whether the
new work style is appropriate for their work
attempted to involve them
positively in the change process.
2. Create a paper mountain
So, instead of bludgeoning
your way to Flexible Working, you go hyper-cautious, follow all the
procedures - and run aground in a sea of paper. Working groups, policy
committees, focus groups have all been reporting for 2 years, and
decisions and requests for information have ambled up and down the
Everyone's bored, no one takes
the project seriously. No one takes you seriously.
I remember one public sector
project where every milestone for the first 18 months in the project plan
was a report. I bet that set the organisation alight!
3. Feed the Rumour Mill
There is another danger when
you spend inordinate amounts of time scoping, strategising, building
conceptual models or - it sometimes happens - grabbing rivals from
different departments by the throat. The Rumour Mill starts cranking away.
Careless talk about
"property optimisation" will get translated as "I'm going
to have to work somewhere out in the sticks ".
"Hotdesking" translates into paranoia about personal
The road is uphill from here
4. Create a "Mid-Air
Sometimes people can be very
literal minded. It's always a good idea to have someone to champion new
ideas. So increasingly a special post is created with the title of
"Champion". Kind of like a "Drugs Tsar" (only
without the drugs).
Unless he or she has special
personal qualities, you're going to hate this person. "My name is
Champion, and I'm here to make you change".
But worse still is to have an
ineffective champion. To get anything done in an organisation you need a
power-base. Flexible Working falls across departments. It needs top-level
backing, or strong roots in a powerful department. Too often the champion
is left in mid-air, with nothing to hold up the foundations of the
project. The fate in store is to end up like the "green"
champion, long left to graze at the margins of the company.
5. Leave it to the men in
They are usually men, too. The
technologists, that is. This involves IT, doesn't it? ICT? What's that?
OK, the IT department should lead on this.
Well, maybe they should. Many
of the best projects have their roots there. But a flexible working
project should never be considered as just, or even primarily, an IT
project. What will happen?
project will become incomprehensible.
These guys won't talk about working from home: they'll beat you down with
RAS, firewalls, ethernet, NT, UNIX, ASPs, ISPs, ISDN, ADSL, TTFN, etc etc
until you don't know where you are. It's one way to triumph in meetings,
though - render the others unconscious through acronym onslaught.
You probably won't deal
effectively with the human issues, the process issues, and the facilities
But if the IT department has
sucked in enough money, you may have a brilliant network, primed for flexible
working. It's just that no-one is using it. Big investment, no return.
6. Hey, these systems don't
work. Let's put them online.
You're going to introduce
"Information Age" flexible working. Home working, mobile
working, the lot. But no attention has been paid to modernising business
So unwieldy paper processes
are given an electronic makeover. Disastrous legacy systems are given a
web interface. You can access them from anywhere, but they're still
7. Death by 1,000
The consultants have scoped
the project, measured everything that can be measured. The interior
designers and IT specialists have set out the specs. The staff are
enthused for change.
Then the recidivists come out
of the woodwork. And they're powerful. Suddenly every manager has made out
a case why they should have personal space, as well as team space. George
has a compelling reason why his team should be in at 8.30 every day for
Everyone accepts the general
principle. But their own case is unique. Exceptions rule. The project
dies, even if the spin lives on.
8. Forget to measure
Well, the project may be
working, it may not. You don't know. You didn't measure.
Is productivity up? Are
property costs reduced? Is service delivery more efficient? Are staff
happier? Is business mileage reduced? Pass!
It feels good though? Or not.
But you can't make out the case for rolling it out further, for
adjustments or improvements. Ah well, just make something up!
9. While people move, the
The project looks successful,
with people working on a location-independent footing. But is it
delivering all the benefits?
Because back at the office,
nothing has changed. Except that desks are even less in use than before.
that promised £x million per
year savings in property costs isn't going to happen
you've actually increased
office space and office costs, by creating home offices, mobile offices,
when people come back into the
office - e.g. for team building, brainstorming etc - the office is still
laid out for "factory system" working
10. Let loose the
pedants and legal eagles
A couple of years ago I read
advice from a lawyer commenting on using electronic networks. Amongst
other dubious comments was the advice that "no employee should be
allowed to send an email until its content has been approved by his line
manager". Hmm, so that's what line managers should do!
As well as gagging employees,
there is always a coterie of anal retentives who want to bind everyone in
a comprehensive set of policies, covering everything from conduct in
virtual meetings to how to carry a laptop.
Sure, there is a need to have
policies to cover flexible working. And there are serious issues as
regards health & safety, performance, etc. But there's also a cost to
excessive caution. Trying to control all eventualities will stifle
emerging good practice, and ensure under-performance.
11. Send the workers to
I know someone who tried to
telework from Siberia. Let's just say telecommunications infrastructure
has some way to go there.
But I'm talking about a
metaphorical Siberia. Cold, frosty, desolate, isolated. Two months in, if
you haven't been eaten by a bear, you turn into one.
Isolation can be a problem.
But it can also be overcome by good management, good lines of
communication. And, dare I say it, regular face-to-face meetings.
12. Believe your own spin!
Have you noticed how only
successful case studies are published?
After your project is in
place, at the cost of a substantial investment, the pressures to be seen a
success are felt by all stakeholders.
It won't be long until word
gets around, and you're invited onto the conference circuit to spread the
word. That's great, especially if you get paid well for each presentation!
But it's vital not to get
seduced by your own spin, even when others conspire to promote your
Deep down, you know where the
fault-lines are. And you also know as business demands change, and new
technologies for work emerge, that flexible working is not a one-off
project. It involves a continuing process of improvement and evolution.
So no time to rest on your
laurels - although if you've followed all my advice here, that probably
won't be a problem!