08th October 2020

Working ‘flexmotely’ yet somehow working longer? That’s not right.

I’m hearing it from so many people, I can’t help but think something has gone wrong.

Right now, many of us who can work ‘remotely’ from the office are. However, I’m having clients and friends tell me that in working from home, they don’t have much ‘flexibility’.

In fact, they are now working longer than ever before. Sure, they have the ‘flex’ to put a load of washing on during the day.  But that’s little reward for being on Teams/Zoom meetings all day and then ‘doing my work from 7pm to 10pm’. For many working flexibly and remotely has turned out to be a case of ‘just what I asked for and not what I want’.

In organisational behaviour terms this sudden shift has been like pulling back the rug to find a lot of nasty stuff running around. Before COVID creating the opportunity for people to work flexibly and remotely was supposed to improve lives. Why is it that people need to spend so much time in meetings and consequently working longer to finish the other stuff?

We are being active, but we are not being productive.

I was breaking this problem down with a client. In this person’s case she is a member of the Exec Team of a medium sized business. Prior to ‘the great shemozzle’ as she calls it, the Exec Team had designed and operated an effective meeting cadence that went like this:

  • Weekly: Mondays, 11am: 1 hour, ‘around the grounds’. Every team member provides an update on their focus for the week, no minutes.
  • Monthly: 2nd Tuesday of the month: All day (8 hours). Business Review & Projections and team decisions on major areas of focus.
  • Quarterly: 1st Wednesday & Thursday of the Quarter: 2 Days (16 hours). Strategic Issues, Business Development, Business Planning, Succession Planning, People Development, etc.
  • Annually: 3 Day Strategy and Team Development Session. (24 hours)

Now, the average person (if there is such a thing) working ~40 hours a week (yeah, right) and taking four weeks’ leave has roughly 1900 hours available each year. My client and I then tallied the total number of hours planned for the Exec meetings. It came to 240 hours or about 12% of each team member’s time.

‘But wait’ she said. ‘I have a similar meeting cadence for my direct report team.’ So, we doubled it. We are still at around 25% of her time for meetings which are designed to cover off ~90% of the work these teams needed to do as teams, and the decisions these teams needed to take as teams. That left 75% of her time free to get on with her job. Theoretically.

Even allowing for some slippage and the odd mini crisis, how could it be that her life is now about back to back Teams/Zoom meetings all day and then spending evenings ploughing through emails? ‘This was not in the brochure for flexible, remote working’, she said.

We unpacked the problem and identified several underlying issues:

  • Too many jobs are defined in terms of tasks and time not outcomes. Many people aren’t clear on the outcomes they are expected to deliver on their own.
  • Some managers don’t trust their direct reports to get on and do their jobs and make decisions within their remit. So, they are calling unnecessary meetings to discuss and review work.
  • Some people don’t want to be ‘empowered’ to get on with their jobs and make decisions within their remit. They fear making mistakes and or the consequences associated with mistakes.
  • Some teams haven’t defined what decisions require the whole team present and what decisions can be made by a subset of members engaging outside of ‘whole team’ meetings.
  • Some teams are using Microsoft Teams as a video interaction tool only. They are ignoring all the features for storing and sharing files, or the plugins and apps that can make work so much more efficient. Like getting off email all together. They aren’t experimenting with and adapting to new technology.

You might have a few more. The thing is, increased flexible and remote working is going to be with us for ever. Maybe not like now, but it will never be like before. We need to shift gears or risk wide scale burnout.

The first step to addressing the problem is that every team needs to take stock and reset.

Feel free to use our 7Ps of Team Performance to do it. Get in touch and I’ll send you a tip sheet you can implement right away.

And, if you want to go ‘next level’, we can walk your team through a comprehensive exercise using Mural, (a digital workspace for visual collaboration) to reset how you operate. Who knows, the promised benefits of flexible, remote working could become a reality.

Justin Miles

Justin Miles

Manager Partner, Melbourne at Generator Talent
Justin is the Managing Partner of our Melbourne office, an outcome focused leader with a track record of driving business performance through proven talent and organisation development practices. Justin’s methods and skills have been shaped by working with performance oriented leaders in great companies including PepsiCo, The Campbell Soup Company, Diageo, Rip Curl, Fonterra and Wesfarmers, in Australia, the USA and Latin America.
Justin Miles

Categories: Designing Organisations

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