Here’s a great post by Bryan Miles. Bryan Miles is CEO & Co-founder of eaHELP and is blessed to run this company with his wife, Shannon. To learn more about Bryan, click here. You can guest post as well! Read how to here.
Sing with me! Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of ambition. And yawn and stretch and try to come to life. Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin’. Out on the street, the traffic starts jumpin’, with folks like me on the job from 9 to 5. Working 9 to 5 …
Even Dolly would tell you those days are over.
In fact more and more, employers are encouraging off hours for their team members for the sake of results. At eaHELP, we see it every day. Employers from large corporations to starts-ups are realizing that rigid work times are a potential drag on productivity (and results). Traditional 9-to-5 office hours are becoming a thing of the past thanks to the widespread adoption of mobile technology. While certain roles at an organization will always be “shift-oriented” because of the nature or requirement of the role, more and more organizations are opening up to the idea of a virtual workforce … and for good reason.
A virtual workforce means more hours of coverage over the course of a 24-hour period. In a lot of instances, it’s because of incremental bursts of work being accomplished. Team member productivity is connected to focus and being in a traditional 9 to 5 office has its share of distractions. By compartmentalizing a team member’s time (9 to 5), you are potentially limiting their productivity and results because you are defining when their work can be done.
But while this may seem like good news for restless desk jockeys, it doesn’t mean team members are working fewer hours overall. In fact, they may be working more. This is where a solid leader worth following must make sure their team is not over-working, feeling like they can’t escape their jobs. There is a palpable tension that exists when a leader doesn’t help their team shut it off.
If you don’t believe it’s true, consider these scenarios. Outside the context of your work, how do you communicate with your kids these days? Text, right? Do you Skype with your mom and dad? Do your friends leave you voicemails? Does your church email you notices about your next time volunteering? When’s the last time you held an actual bank statement in your hands? You see, you are far more “virtual” with your everyday life than you realize. Why should the workplace be any different?
QUESTION: Are you willing to try a virtual workforce at your place of business with certain roles? If not, what’s at stake?
38 thoughts on “Working 9 to 5”
I think for me to see the appeal, it needs to be a seasonal thing. I would not want to (pro) have flexible hours in exchange for the (con) ‘must be reachable at all times’ by my employer.
I’d love to get out of the office more, and it would definitely make me more productive on my own work tasks. However, not being immediately available, which will vary as a company culture variable from org to org, may or may not be a killer for any out of office time with the family or other benefit the flexible hours would be giving me. The last thing I want are texts or calls from the boss when playing with my kids.
Erik, from our experience w/ our Clients … we suggest you start to set expectations about this. Make it clear w/ your company or employees what is expected … in terms of response time … communication … what tools are used … & etc. When everyone is on the same page about expectations of working virtually … it’s a great win for employees and employers. This could be accomplished w/ a “Working Remote Policy” that we see a lot of companies/corporations create to enhance productivity.
I’m blessed that my employer doesn’t have an ‘always on’ expectation. I’m even sitting at Starbucks as I write this, but on work time, working. 🙂
I think the biggest thing is to talk about boundaries up front.
We have discovered in the world of software development that a lot of communication is lost when meetings are virtual. Subtleties of expression, nonverbal communication, posture, and the like. Sidebars during coffee breaks. All these things are much harder, if even possible, when participants are separated by computer screens.
The Agile movement goes so far as to suggest that the closer you locate your teams together, the better the communication between your team members will be due to the phenomenon of “osmotic communication”, a term coined by Dr. Alistair Cockburn (pronounced co-burn, see reference: http://alistair.cockburn.us/Osmotic+communication), which refers to overheard conversations and other serendipitous opportunities for interaction. If Alice and Bob are talking about a problem and Charlie has some experience that they don’t know about, but they happen to be within his earshot, he can contribute to that conversation. If they’re on Skype or a Go2Meeting or talking via some other electronic means, he’ll likely never know and not have that opportunity to interact. Or, at least, it’ll be far harder.
Sure, for truly distributed teams it can be made to work, but it often requires leaving channels open all the time in order to simulate a co-located environment to ensure collaboration is as friction-free as possible. Sometimes this means having videoconferenceing systems on and running from the time the first team member arrives until the last one checks out for the day, to give a feeling of co-location.
At the very least, the team’s leaders need to be on high alert that the team not fragment into “them” and “us”, and start to divide up the work in that way. When that happens, the team ceases to be one team and becomes two separately-located teams instead.
I’m just not yet convinced that this big push for virtualization is all it’s cracked up to be, at least not for team-based work.
This can be a big culture shift for many organizations. I work remotely and have been able to find a great balance with this.
What’s you’re top three favorite things about it?
I don’t know about Tammy, but mine were:
1. Freedom. I started working for a ROWE company 2 months before our daughter was born. I cannot imagine not working from home 2 days a week or occasionally waking up at 5am to work, then taking the mid-day off, then going back to work. I cannot imagine missing out on everything I got to be a part of as a new dad.
2. When done right, the accountability. No more judging people based on when they get to the office and when they leave. Some weeks I worked 35 hours and did all I needed to do and some weeks I worked 55 hours and barely got by. The bottom line was that I did what was needed and no one asked questions about when I worked, nor did I worry about when they worked.
3. We still got together frequently…in fact more often. I met one-on-one just as much as I did in a non-virtual, I did more intentional checkins than ever before, and because we were around our families more and interacting more outside of “normal work hours,” I feel like I learned more about my reports and superiors personal lives.
My boss flew up to Fort Wayne periodically. I went down sometimes. We talked on the phone all the time. Never before in my entire life had I ever called a report or superior that wasn’t a close friend already while driving just to check in. I suddenly found myself doing this all the time. My commute across town to my office turned into productive checking in time. And that time was one-on-one. VAL-U-ABLE!
I’ve worked for and consulted for a company that operated in a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment…from the book “Work Sucks and What to Do About”)
They are as virtual as you can get. No mandatory meetings. No office hours. Pretty much…no office period. Most people worked from home, coffee shops, or their own office.
Here is what I learned:
1. The idea is brilliant for most modern companies, particularly those in service, IT, creative, etc. Service companies usually get at least 4 hours more coverage, so a normal 9-5 ET company gets coverage from 7-7. That is a win for everyone. More creative companies can get an early start or late finish outside of “normal business hours” to think. Programmers can get some work done before/after everyone else is done bugging them.
2. It’s also very dangerous and must be done right. Both companies were in a ROWE before I came on board. The first, that I worked for, I was not in a position really to say “here is where you are screwing this up.” The second, for which I consulted, that is what they asked me to do. We were able to turn things around really fast.
To effectively run a ROWE (or any virtual environment) you must:
A. Still set rules. If you have a team of 4 people and expect there will be enough coverage to answer all calls during the hours of 10-4, then they have to work that out between them. That might mean one week Joe and Sally are working 10-4 every day or they alternate days…whatever. But there will be coverage from 10-4 or you will need to reign in the team.
B. Piggybacking on A – Working virtual should be seen as a privilege. If you can’t get your work done virtually, you either lose your privilege or you lose your job.
C. You must seriously get focused on measuring and accountability. The first company sucked at this so it wasn’t a ROWE because there were no results measured. Whatever your accountability level in a “normal” work environment is, you must crank it up at least 200% for virtual.
D. You must be incredibly intentional and frequent with your touch points with team members. This means you should reach out at least once a day to your direct reports. Just because you cannot see them does not mean they are not accountable for their work and that you should not check in with them. This takes 2-3 minutes and should be done via phone/skype (preferably skype video), not IM or email.
E. They should be expected to reach out to you. This means at the very least a weekly report via email but I learned that often there is a big difference between you (leader) calling them and taking the initiative and them calling you. Set the expectation that you expect them to call you sometimes, at least for your weekly one-on-one meeting. Trust me, that little thing, sets a different tone…it’s now THEIR meeting, which is good.
I could go on and on, but those are a few of the things I learned along the way!
Your comment about “preferably skype video” is echoed by some work done in Media Richness Theory. A slightly more approachable version is here: http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/communication.htm#HowDoWeCommunicate. Basically, the most effective to communicate when modeling (you can extend this to any activity requiring collaboration and problem-solving) is side by side at a whiteboard. Face-to-face is next, followed by video conferencing, then phone calls, and email is at the bottom of the barrel.
Virtualization in and of itself isn’t bad. But it has its place, as does sitting together in a room, working together at a whiteboard, problem solving in the same physical space at the same physical time.
Two tools in a toolbox.
Nice Bret. I love that link. I work mostly virtual but when I get the chance, I will choose side by side over face to face. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing!
Dang brother!! Great insight!!
Matt – you listed some great stuff! In our current environment both w/ our Clients and internally … 2D that you listed above is of extreme importance. Great list!
Realized I left something out of 2C too.
If you are the type who doesn’t have the guts to hold people accountable, absolutely DO NOT institute a virtual environment. This is why it failed at the company I was at.
Great stuff! Thank you for sharing these!
Now this is some great information – you could blog this!
Oh I will 🙂
Unfortunately, I don’t have the authority where I work to implement any sort of work-at-home arrangement. Last year, I did ask my supervisor if I could experiment one day a week working remotely. The response I got was “we could try it, but don’t tell anyone. If anyone asks, tell them your kid is sick.”
I never did it. Why should one have to lie to do this? As we become more and more connected and mobile, the organizations that implement these arrangements are going to rise above those that don’t. They will be the ones who succeed in retaining quality talent as well as attracting it.
Why do we equate quality talent with people who want to work from home?
I’ve met plenty of high-quality folks who want to work at an office so their lives aren’t confused. I’m one of those. When I work at home, it’s difficult for me to draw the boundaries between home roles and work roles. Being there for my kids and being there for my work.
I’ve also met plenty of people who want to work from home so they can bill for eight hours of work and do two.
It cuts both ways and I don’t think the benefits are quite as clear as you’re making them out to be.
Remember, Google gives away food and other perks at their campus not to be a wonderful, caring employer, but to entice employees to spend more and more time there.
I would say in that case the problem is with the person’s work ethics, and not with working remotely or on-site. If they don’t have the discipline to work at home, they won’t have it in the office either.
Good point, but in large organizations in particular, giving them the ability to work remotely has, in the cases I’ve seen, given them the ability to do less than they were doing when they had to report to the office, and still get away with it. Produce less, still get paid. The organization doesn’t have the oversight to deal with it, the inertia is there to prevent meaningfully dealing with problem employees, yet they’re trying to embrace these new concepts too quickly because they’re flashy and vogue. So rather than do it smart, they’re getting less for more and getting hurt by it in the long run.
Anyway, my argument was that it’s wrong to draw a direct parallel between “we let people work from home” and “that means we get quality employees”. That’s a logic jump that I don’t think holds up, or at least I haven’t seen any research to back that up.
Agree. Having quality employees is not in direct correlation with allowing them to work remotely or not.
I agree Lily – except some people just need the DISCIPLINE of getting up and going into work. Once there – and in a confined environment – they will work. But given freedom, their ADD might kick in…..!
Thanks Bret. I wasn’t clear, as I didn’t mean to make the connection that the only quality people are those that work from home, because that is not true. I agree. In my mind, it doesn’t have to be an either/or type of thing. There’s a growing number of quality people out there who like the flexibility to work at home or the office.
For me, it’s attractive because commuting is horrendously wasteful. Productivity time lost, vehicle wear and tear, the environmental cost. It all adds up for me. If I can work from home just one day a week, that’s a windfall of thousands of dollars in real costs (both personal and at the macro level).
That makes sense to me. I’m trying to work my job schedule so that I work four trend-hour days each week for the same reason. In my current work, telecommuting is just not an option do this is my cost-saving alternative.
Thanks for the opportunity to share with your fans/audience Chris! Grateful!
Great post Bryan!!
The vast majority of my experience has been working at a physical location. I have started working on a website for a real estate company, where most of the work is done at home (or where ever), but this is only a few hours a week. I would love to do more of this type of work. Several years ago, I would have had a difficult time separating myself from working, but I believe I’ve been able to develop the ability to distinguish between work and family time.
We have had a teammate move from Minnesota to Arizona for his wife’s career. He is a 35 year member of the team! But as much as he is connected electronically, he will tell you he misses the office very, very much. The highlight of his week is our Monday morning company wide meeting, which he participates by phone. He definitely would not choose a virtual work space. I have had other technical people work virtually as well, with much of the same comments–miss the team atmosphere of the office. So I think working virtual is a tool to use, I think it needs careful selection and in the best case scenario it needs to be mixed with a healthy dose of onsite participation.
I moved from Detroit to Wisconsin and then Minnesota. Definitely missed the office and team members. On the other hand, I was thankful about keeping my job for two and a half years off-site. It is difficult when one member is remote and the others are not, you’re definitely out of sight-out of mind. In my new position, everyone is virtual at some point, so the culture is set up for it. It does make a big difference and we’re not virtual 100% of the time.
Lily – there have been many times I wanted all of my team under one roof – it just hasn’t been possible. And you are right – hard when one is remote and others are together.
I think Disqus ate my first (long) comment, even though I got replies on it. Can anyone still read it??
I’d like a virtual boss. Things would run much smoother.
LOL, Sandra! That is what my team is saying!
I have a team of 17 and we all work in different locations! Some in Florida – one in Texas – some in North Louisiana – South Louisiana and central Louisiana. And I get e-mails from team at all hours of the night! We work more in a “results” oriented environment – so…this works for us. The challenge? Turning the work off! The computer is always there – the work is always there. It has to be a conscience effort to STOP working!
And more than once, I have had to counsel some of my team to STOP working and take a break. It can breed work-a-holics – that is for sure!
I don’t see this happening at the entry level and mid level in the workplace. I work for my country office and they strongly discourage this idea. But, my supervisor’s boss who monitors the entire South Asia works from his home. He connects with his counterparts through online meetings. His productivity is on par with anyone who works from the office.