Are you working flexibly?

Are you making flexibility work for you?

We are all suddenly working flexibly; working from home, working from our dining tables and our bedrooms. We are all suddenly having to make space through the day to stop being professionals and to instead become parents, teachers, carers, husbands, and wives.

There are no boundaries in our lives, no segregation of duties; you stop typing and spin the chair ninety degrees and you’re a parent. You sit on the sofa and put your computer on your lap and you’re a professional.

Because of these things we are all finding ourselves working at strange times, finishing off the thing that we didn’t get to, or getting ahead of a thing that we know we’re going to need to do the next day.

But this can quickly become unhealthy; working flexibly can easily become working constantly. Blurring the lines is shockingly easy.

A call at 7pm, right in the middle of bath time? Well, if that’s when you’re free then I guess I can be free.

Just one more thing to finish off at 10pm, or 11pm, or 12.

When we were all plunged into lockdown the message was clear, put your safety and health and that of your family first, that shouldn’t change, so how can we add some inflexibility back into our lives?

  • Develop a Personal Constitution – For those of you who have read Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, you should be familiar with the idea of a Personal Mission Statement or a Personal Constitution.

    Covey describes it this way; “It focuses on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based.”

    It provides a touchstone, a written commitment to yourself and to others, a set of “correct principles, against which every decision concerning the most effective use of your time, your talents, and your energies can be effectively measured.”

    There are piles of articles out there on how to write such a statement, so I would suggest searching for guidance. Or alternatively, here is mine, for you to use as a reference.

  • Model Behaviours – This goes beyond being the person who visibly sets boundaries, way more important is to model the behaviour of acceptance and respect for the right of others to be flexible.

    Think about this, what’s stopping you from being inflexible? I bet that there is an element of what others will think and say about it, so don’t be that person.

    Don’t ask that others respect your right to be flexible and then don’t respect that same right in other people. Flexible working looks different to different people, someone else’s may not look like yours, and that’s OK.

  • Be Consistent – This is another one about respect for other people; if you’re going to have boundaries, then have them.

    Don’t change them, don’t apply them sometimes and not others, don’t leave people not knowing.

    People value consistency, they would rather you were consistent and that you said no to things based on your values than if every interaction with you were a roll of the dice.

  • Offer Alternatives – If you can’t make the suggested time, then suggest an alternative that works for everyone. If you can’t find an alternative then send an empowered deputy, or let the meeting go ahead without you and get a readout after.

    If you can’t make the deadline, suggest an alternative that works for you based on your capacity and your work hours.

    Be honest and open, respect others and deliver when you say you’re going to deliver. Learn how to say No without saying No.

For most of us this change isn’t going anywhere soon, we will all have to learn to be flexible and to work with some degree of flexibility, but we all have to make that flexibility work for us, and accept what it looks like for others.

More than ever work needs to be about productivity and not presenteeism, with no boundaries and no natural barriers we must avoid the compunction to be online all of the time and instead focus on what needs to be done, on staying true to our values and staying within our limits.

Sometimes we need to be (in)flexible.

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