The “right” environment

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For some this may appear a somewhat random post but the right environment goes straight to the heart of feeling good in your job and what you do generally as well as how communities and networks enable co-operation and collaboration. This picks up on the principles which I referred to in my previous post.

Work won’t go away

One thing I know to be true about the future of my job – assuming for a moment that I do indeed stay in employment with my current employer – is that the pressures on the physical work place will be greater and greater as the council reduces the number of offices it has and moves toward a totally flexible and mobile workforce.

In principle I don’t disagree with this direction, in fact if I were a decision maker I’d be suggesting and making the same kind of recommendation – it just makes sense.

However as you’ll often hear people say – the devil is in the detail – I’ve been considering how the detail might look in my own team and the wider team of communications and have also considered things from a number of other perspectives.

One of the challenges that we need to get our head around is “it’s not where you work but how you work” that matters. This might seem really obvious to say but we also need to ensure that the environments we are creating actually facilitate and enable this shift in thinking.  If the environments stay the same but the pressure on space increases  then we simply stay in a mindset that says “I need my own desk, my own space and my hours of work are between x and y”.

When you consider how the majority of current workplaces are set up – they actually foster and reinforce a level of control over the workforce. Essentially we are saying “in order for me to feel comfortable and safe as a manager I need to see my staff at a desk between these hours in order for my to justify that they are indeed working”. This feels all wrong to me, but I can and have to appreciate that there are challenges in adopting a more flexible approach in every job role without really thinking how the job needs to be done…again  “it’s not where you work but how you work” that matters. But often enough any change isn’t supported by a change in how people work…instead people are expected to work flexibly and mobile whilst essentially having the same restrictions on their role as before. These may include things like access to file stores in a network, access to applications from anywhere etc.

I’m not for a second saying that this is the situation where I work, however there are some challenges and some real fundamental questions that need to be asked about what type of organisation we want to be and how we create a working environment that fosters a culture and workforce who are capable of delivering, supporting and commissioning services in the future.

I recently came across a new ways of working week which is promoted in Holland and I wondered whether we need to consider something like that here in order to really test out whether some people can in fact work differently and what we need to do in order to change the working environment to really support those people to work in new ways. Maybe that involves piloting a new piece of technology, working from a different location (home, cafe or another office), adopting a new process or whatever it might be…but for me it feels like that unless we actually try new ways of working we will in fact carry on working as we are but faced with less space, more work and fewer colleagues to work with.

The problem for me is that it is ok to have a broad direction of travel but with the pace of change being so fast we can’t or don’t have time to create strategies. We need to allow strategies to emerge based on how people wish to work and to create and support those environments.

If you look at your organisations policies, I mean really look at them you’ll find that essentially they are there to protect the status quo and not to push forward new ways of working (internal or external) whether digital or otherwise.

But I suspect in a local and central government context many councils are reducing the number of properties they own and operate from as this is an easy way to reduce costs without affecting front line services (unless those buildings are front line of course).

It’s a balancing act

I have a family (Wife, 2 kids and a dog), I enjoy activities such as cycling and karate as well as spending time with my family and seeing my kids grow up. It is important to me to be visible in their lives and that means being present at Xmas nativity plays, taking them into school each morning and helping them with their homework. Having a family is a full-time job – yet I also have a paid full-time job for the council where I want to do the best job I can within the scope and remit I have been given to work within. I also have a couple of voluntary positions (school governor, Exeter Schools consortium mgt board member and NED of Cosmic – it’s all in my about me page) as I want to be able to contribute and give back to my community in various ways as well as gain personal learning and development.

Now the challenge with all of the above is fitting it all in – it is however possible albeit not actually straight forward – AND this is a key issue, it could be a whole lot easier for me and those I try to work with and for, if some basic little things were made simpler and more integrated.  The reality is I’ve created a set of unsustainable and inefficient processes in order for me to simply manage all aspects of my life – something will and has to give in the near future!

One example  – which would make something easier for me would be having a “single unified calendar” where I could manage all my activities without having to duplicate or copy stuff from one to another.  Currently I operate from two main calendars. A work calendar which has my work life in it and the odd appointment (dentist, doctor etc) so I don’t forget it as well as booking the time out otherwise it gets filled up.  I actually used to put everything into my work calendar and tried to categorise it makes things private etc which weren’t work related. That was quite easy to do up until I started the additional roles i now perform…

I also have a calendar for everything else, but this calendar isn’t easy to manage due to the complexity and often conflicting times I need to book things in for. Before i can really accept or book anything into that I need to check my work calendar to ensure that i am in fact free or available on a given day regardless of the time as some work commitments take me away therefore they move into evenings etc so there isn’t a clear break point in any given day as to when work starts or stops.

Now being able to have a single calendar might not seem that much but it would mean that I would actually know where I was supposed to be and help me manage any “spare time” that occurs. But in order to actually achieve this kind of environment would mean that I need to have a level of access to my work calendar which is not currently there due to security and access restrictions. These maintain a position of work being very different to everything else I do. When for me it is part of everything I do and just like my real life it is and has to be integrated for it to work.

The right environment

In order for organisations to adapt and change they need to be able to provide the right environment for people to excel, to manage their complex lives and to be able to feel that there is in fact a work life balance.

I don’t know what the right environment is for you…but for me it needs to allow me to be a husband, father, friend, boss, colleague, community member, volunteer and allow me to manage all aspects of my life. Nothing much to ask for is it? :)

8 thoughts on “The “right” environment

  1. Spot on, Carl. Particularly your assessment of the average team managers’ view and motivation at present.

    I’ve been “lucky” in my time to have worked without a base (other than home) on two occasions. It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, if you’ve never tried it. Working in a base, amongst a team involves so much more than it sounds. Having to go somewhere else, write, phone, etc, just to get the slightest feedback from anyone other than yourself is a cruel form of deprivation, imo, the cost of which far outweighs the “freedom” to be where you need to be, when you need to be there. Sod’s Law seems to determine that free space in the diary almost never falls where you could really use it properly. And if the job expects antisocial hours too, you can be sure any sense of a) control of your diary and b) ability to take “time off in lieu” pretty quickly fly out of the window.

    It’s also far less productive on many occasions, for simple, logistical reasons. My geographical patch on both occasions was the best part of an hour’s drive from “HQ”, where I could squabble for a “hot desking” base if I wanted. HQ was only ten minutes from home, though, so I never did. So, if I had a two hour gap betweeen appointments or meetings, what to do? Drive back to home or HQ, and turn straight round and head back out? No, of course not. Find a cafe, park bench, bus shelter, car park or surrogate office locally? Far more likely, and I used them all, regularly.

    The biggest casualty is your sense of belonging. Anywhere. I consider myself a pretty good networker, too, but it’s no substitute.

    Thanks for raising a tough issue about which, I believe, there are many myths.

  2. Simon Milner

    There’s a vital aspect of the right environment, which is the degree of trust shown between colleagues and between employer and employee. I second/third/fourth your thoughts about the “single unified calendar” and I yearn for it all the more because I used to have one until the security and access restrictions were imposed.

    And here’s the thing: it feels to me that those restrictions were imposed because the employer could not trust its employees to protect potentially sensitive information according to standards that are clearly laid down in policy and law. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of employees a) never go near sensitive information and b) probably wouldn’t want to open that window from work into the rest of their life. If it’s off for one, it’s off for all and no chance of asking to be trusted to behave sensibly. Not even “sign here to confirm that you know what you’re doing.” Change that parameter of the environment and other positive changes may follow.

    Like you, work is just part of my life; I don’t need to balance one against the other, but I do need to get the right mix of ingredients!

  3. Difficult environment to be sure …. but small step … the calendar issue is imho easy to resolve: as you know Outlook, iCal etc allow you to have several separate calendars e.g. work, home, etc etc … which you can view separately when you need to focus on the current role, mashup for a global view …. you now all that & used to work that way before the security gotcha. So [unless your calendar items really are sensitive], your MASTER calendars [home, work etc] need to reside on your own systems – add work entries to your secure work calendar as you create them, simply by “inviting” your work persona to the “meeting”. Work for me anyway.

    • Thanks Pete,

      So are you suggesting that I should own my master calendar and then share relevant bits of that with whoever needs access…I was thinking this…I kind of see it like having a personal data store but for my calendar. The challenge here though is linking any master with my work one as other people will always invite my standard calendar and not my master! Unless you have a suggestion of course :)

      • Yes that’s the way I see it Carl … but shouldn’t be a problem if someone books time in your offical work calendar – when you ACCEPT it, just include your personal calendar as an attendee [ok it might look a bit strange to others ... the alternative is a bit more tedious ... create a private entry in your work calendar at the same time & include your personal calendar - you can filter the calendar so it doesn't look too messy]. Ok, not ideal, but more workable than juggling, I find.
        Pete

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