The work I do at the Centre for Workplace Leadership involves thinking about a range of issues that relate to work. Flexibility has been one, with the Making Flexibility Work project and the preparations for the Future of Work conference. I’ve also been quite taken by Cal Newport’s concept of “Deep Work“, which invites us to consider that not all work is equal and some work requires different concentration levels and a different sense of progress (which also ties into Dr Jason Fox and what he says about measuring progress – going through our inbox and deleting emails may feel like getting stuff done, but is it the sort of progress that matters?)*
When we talk about flexible working, it is usually framed in terms of balancing the requirements of work and life. In fact, it is only people with caring responsibilities or other life issues that have a right to request flexible working under Australian law.
But I think there is a broader consideration about flexible working, which is not just the flexibility of time, but also of place. Where is the best place to get the sort of work done that you have to do on a particular day? Let me explain.
I have been lucky enough to have had a series of bosses who understood my need for flexibility as a tool of my productivity. Long before my organisation had any kind of flexi-time system, I was able to call my boss and tell him I would be working from home when I had a policy document or briefing to write. I could get it done in half the time that it would have taken for me to do it in the office (and usually have a quicker trip into work afterwards!)
My most recent boss similarly understood that I would sometimes head out of the office to work in a coffee shop or at John Adams House, because she trusted me to judge what needed doing and where the best place was to get that done.
There’s an argument that the office is a terrible place for doing deep work – too many interruptions, distractions and meetings. It’s a great place for social interaction, developing ideas, serendipitous discussions and the shallow work that we all have to do.
So for me, flexibility should be as much about the type of work you have to do as your personal circumstances. It would be great to get to a point where your effectiveness as an employee isn’t measured by how much time you spend in the office
*I wrote about Deep v Shallow work previously here.