Archive for the ‘Engagement’ Category
Back in December, I tweeted this photo of my empty filing cabinet…
Much the same as any other filing cabinet, you might think….and of course you’d be right! The difference is though, that this empty filing cabinet symbolised a bold move to a wholly different way of working and the start of a genuinely exciting journey for my workplace, the creation of a truly digital hub to coincide with our office move. I am belatedly making good on my promise to blog about it.
The premise was simple. A small number of functions were designated as ‘fixed desk’ workers, for example the telesales teams, who clearly benefit from being office based in a competitive, encouraging environment and enjoy doing so and they moved ‘as is’ with no issues. Other than these functions, anyone could become a homeworker if they wished to and we had around 80 individuals opting to take this choice. All other staff, became by default flexible workers, meaning that they could work from home, from the new office or another alternative location, whenever they chose to, with no requirement of management approval or agreeing working patterns. We very deliberately chose to trust people and treat them as the adults they are.
Let me tell you first what there wasn’t: there were no weighty policies, there was simply a principles document, outlining what I have described above. There was no requirement for management and HR approval or consent, for either homeworking or flexible working: there were simply some basic technical requirements to become a homeworker, for example a minimum broadband speed and health and safety assessment and a clear message that all staff were able to work flexibly. There were no designated offices for anyone at all in the new building, there were no specific desks for individuals, there were no pedestals at the desks, no vast storage capabilities available on site.
But there was investment: investment in laptops, so that staff could work flexibly in the way that we had promised them and investment in digital archiving and online tools to help people communicate more effectively and share documents as needed. There was a system put in place so that people could book desks online, up to a week in advance and plenty of meeting rooms that could be booked and informal meeting spaces, for more ad hoc conversations. There were lockers made available for personal belongings and broad ‘neighbourhoods’ created so that teams could choose to sit with others in their division if they wished to. There was a simple process to access a net payment for those individuals setting themselves up as homeworkers. There was lots of training for managers and for staff on why we were implementing these changes, what the new environment would be like, how to manage in periods of change and uncertainty, what the new parameters were. There was a huge amount of hard work, commitment, enthusiasm and willingness to change, to give something different a try, to trust, to empower.
There have been bumps along the way on this journey, of course there have. But actually, those bumps have been surprisingly few and far between. We have been in our new digital hub and operating our new way of working for over six months now, and the feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive. The open plan environment has energised people, the opportunity to work in a truly flexible way and to be trusted is highly prized and valued. The hard and fast metrics will become clearer over time but so far turnover is down, productivity remains good and people are far happier. For us, it is the first step, but undoubtedly a hugely significant one, which is likely to change how we perceive the working environment and our approach to flexible working for good.
Businesses talk a lot about making changes to how people work, to empowering and trusting staff. It has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be part of the team that has led the transformation to a completely different way of working and challenged the existing norms. Why is it that we assume people are working harder if we can see them sitting at a desk? That if they are empowered to manage their own time, they will skive off? Do we really need to resort to command and control to get the best out of people? And if we can change how people work and interact with each other, what else can we do and let go of to make work even better? Now that really is food for thought!
Questions? Comments? I’d love to know what you think :).
How do you communicate? What do you rely on to get the best from people? The choice of words, turn of phrase and language we use can be hugely emotive and powerful, either to good or negative effect. Yet when we can’t rely on our spoken words and a shared language to articulate what we want to say, we become so much more aware of the non-verbal signals we use.
I pride myself on being pretty good at languages and loved learning both German and French at university and school respectively. Whilst by no means perfectly fluent, I’m good at making myself understood and conversing adeptly in both these languages. My Spanish, however is limited and does not extend much beyond the realms of Dora the Explorer, so our recent holiday in northern Spain was an interesting linguistic challenge.
Two incidents really stick in my mind as memorable conversations and inspired communication. The first was when we were on the hunt for swimming hats, having been refused entry to the swimming pool without them. I successfully followed directions to the first sportswear shop (grumpy kids and bemused Mr C trailing behind me in the steady rain) where the shop assistant spoke no English. Cue me performing a mime of swimming breast stroke, patting my head three times and giving a big engaging smile and a questioning gesture. Success that the shopkeeper understood what I meant, sadly only to confirm he didn’t sell them. He directed me to a similar shop up the road where a similar ritual was performed, with an identical outcome. We were not destined to go swimming that day, but I admit to being childishly thrilled at the interaction – the limited Spanish that we had exchanged and the shared understanding we had created.
The second occurrence was in a restaurant towards the end of our stay, where we were choosing from an English menu, but ordering from the Spanish one, which didn’t seem to entirely match up. Mr C wanted pork (a “suckling pig” no less!) and hesitated on the Spanish pronunciation. On repeating his order, the waitress gave us a mischievous look and unexpectedly oinked like a pig to illustrate her point and confirm that he had indeed ordered correctly. This became a brilliantly funny joke and we built a great rapport with her (with much further oinking!) throughout the rest of our meal, speaking and understanding more Spanish than we had done before.
Somehow, in both these examples, the communication, the interaction was enhanced by a willingness to take a risk and look a little foolish, by humour and humility, by eye-contact, by smiling and establishing a genuine human connection. And for me, they have a power and a charm that not only makes me smile and feel good at the memory, but reinforces that sometimes it is the unexpected and unspoken methods of communication that are the most effective and engaging of all.
How have you communicated differently? Have you had any memorable conversations lately? I’d love to know.
So, believe it or not, we are now in Advent. Now, I’m not going to start getting all Christmassy on you…yet!…but I would like to share a challenge with you and invite some guest posts on this blog.
I heard a lovely thought for the day on the radio this morning, about how Advent is traditionally the time of waiting, of starting to think and prepare for Christmas and of reflecting on the year that has been. The speaker likened the openinng of each window on an Advent calendar to letting light in…whether that is the light of hope of better things to come, the light of love of spending time with those closest to us, or simply the light at the end of the tunnel to what, to many, may well have seemed like a tough year.
What I would like to do during December is to share some guest posts on this blog about some of the great things that have happened in 2011, some of the learnings that you can share from your year and perhaps some hopes for 2012. They don’t have to be HR related, they can be about anything at all. And they don’t have to be melodramatic horrors…although equally, feel free if you want to share!
I’ll be sharing my highlights and horrors of 2011 and writing some of my usual blogs too during this time, but I’d love to have as many guest bloggers as possible during December sharing their throughts and learnings. Experienced bloggers, novices or simply someone who has always thought about writing a blog post and never got round to it. Believe me, it really isn’t as hard as it looks… 😉
I’d love to hear from you.