I had to do a bit of work over the weekend – something of a rush job for a client of mine. As I was online, I logged into Facebook. It’s extraordinary…somehow, it manages to recreate in an online environment the exact same feeling you get when you go into the office on a Sunday to catch up. In comparison to the working week, it’s weirdly quiet…just a few weekend workers like myself floating around. Tells you almost all you need to know about where and how people are using Facebook.
Yes, we all know it can be huge time-waster - particularly in the honeymoon phase when you’re gathering friends and catching up with old contacts – but should it be banned from the workplace? Not as far as I’m concerned. At least, not more than any other website or internet resource. If people are going to muck around online, they’ll do it anyway.
What I reckon needs to change are management practices. I was involved in a piece of work a few years ago for Microsoft. Dr Carsten Sorensen of the London School of Economics (a top boffin, if you’re ever in need, and great fun too) produced a paper identifying the changes needed in UK management practices if the brave new world of mobile and remote working was ever going to come to fruition.
Central to these was the need to change from the current culture of management by sight to management by outcome (or words to that effect…the doc’s actual terminology escapes me). Basically, he identified that British organisations, in the main, are hotbeds of “presenteeism” – i.e. if you’re seen to be at work you must be working and if you’re not, well, you’re not.
Obviously this attitude is entirely outdated. OK, so when you manned a machine in a factory, being there meant you were doing your job. But these days, how many people can spend a day in the office and actually achieve very little? Hell, I’ve done it myself on many occasions. But it’s stuff like the internet – as a distraction for those people in the office – that becomes the target as “costing UK business billions of pounds in lost productivity…” But, like I say, if people want to be distracted, they’ll find the distractions. Christ, a few years back, my team and I spent the best part of a day turning our island of desks into a snow-covered mountain range, complete with cable car.
The good doctor’s conclusion was that, if mobile and remote working is going to succeed, we need to change to a culture of management by outcome, i.e. if people have specific results that they have to achieve, their performance and effectiveness is measured on these results rather than their attendance. Which makes a lot of sense.
So I’m thinking, why should management by outcome just relate to mobile workers? If all workers were managed in this way, it wouldn’t matter whether they were office-based, mobile, home workers or a mixture of all of these. They’d just have specific things to do and as long as they did them, they could spend the rest of their time doing whatever they fancied. Like going home early. Or taking a long lunch. Or mucking around with Facebook.
I’m a freelance and I work (mainly) from home. So I’m a huge advocate of working to a set of very specific tasks and, when they’re done, doing something else rather than sit at my desk because it’s not yet 5.30pm. If all businesses managed their people in a similar way, the debates about people wasting time at work would quickly disappear (as would those people who don’t get through their task lists as efficiently as they should…)