Let’s really embrace flexible and remote working in NZ

6 top reasons why it’s better for everyone and 7 valid concerns to be addressed:

I genuinely believe remote working as well as increased flexibility in the workplace is the way of the future. I was lucky enough to be given that opportunity at my previous employer and I believe it increased my work productivity as well as my loyalty as it clearly demonstrated their trust in me which increased my respect for them.

Now that I am working for myself I realise I can choose with even more freedom when and how I work and listen to what my body and mind is telling me I need. Here are some reasons why I think it’s a win for everyone, and with some statistics that that illustrate plenty of global companies agree:

  • It increases productivity

Businesses lose $600 billion a year in workplace distractions. This is something from experience I feel strongly about. You can have employees in the office for 8-10 hours a day and they can be extremely unproductive. Fellow colleagues are great at distracting each other – unnecessary meetings, regular coffee breaks, wandering over to the kitchen and engaging in conversation with someone on their break whilst you aren’t on yours. I have seen it happen so often, whereas when I am at home, I can smash out work, with zero distractions, take breaks when I actually know I am losing concentration and these breaks can be spent positively doing something in the house that I would otherwise have to do in a rush in my evening or weekend. Or I can go for a walk if I need fresh air. I don’t have to feel watched and judged for my movements because it’s all about output, which I think work success should be based on. If I don’t produce the work, they know I haven’t done enough, so proof is in the pudding and the truth is always outed if you are taking advantage.

Everyone works better at different times. Some people thrive getting up super early, like me, and being really productive in the mornings, then having a break and being productive again later on. Others benefit from a bit more sleep but then they work until later in the day. Some crazy people are better during the evening/night time. Having a one size fits all just doesn’t make sense when it doesn’t have to be like that.

Companies implementing remote working like JD Edwards, showed remote workers to be 20-25 percent more productive than their office colleagues. American Express employees who worked from home were 43 percent more productive than workers in the office. Apart from the ones I already mentioned, the act of showing trust can result in more loyalty and better work ethic. But also, it cuts out commuting time which in itself is a huge stressor and time drainer on individuals with lots of commitments and families to take care of. It allows everyone to work around their life situations. “A recent report into the UK’s tech industry by HSBC found that 89% of respondents cited flexible working as a motivation to up their productivity.”

Finally it can cut down on wasted meetings. When using web based tools to meet they tend to end up being better planned and more effective. On a slight side note, when using your messaging tools and emails it can help equalise personalities. No longer does the biggest voice in the room win out.

  • It has a positive environmental impact

By not commuting each day, we are able to make an impact on reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. You have multiple digital tools at your fingertips to enable effective videoconferencing and this can further reduce business travel which has a similar negative environmental impact. Furthermore, working from home people use less electricity, less supplies and less office equipment. This has the added benefit of reducing waste. “Sun Microsystems reported that its 24,000 U.S. employees participating in the Open Work Program avoided producing 32,000 metric tons of CO2 last year by driving less often to and from work.” We all know how bad traffic gets in Auckland in particular, by getting more drivers off the roads at those peak commuter hours we can reduce traffic issues. In the US “Traffic jams idle away almost three billion gallons of gas and accounts for 26 million extra tons of greenhouse gases”. Imagine similar statistics across the globe in other cities, including NZ and what a difference we can make.

  • It increases staff loyalty and reduces attrition

There are some statistics supporting how important the commute is as a factor for employees. Nearly half of employees feel their commute is worsening with 70% of them feel their employers should have responsibility in solving the issue. 92% of employees are worried about the rising costs of fuel and 80% of them specifically mention the cost of commuting to work. 73% of those feel their employers should take responsibility in helping them reduce their commuting costs – flexible work environment answers a lot of those issues. 2/3’s of employees would change their job to decrease the commute. Furthermore your employees feel more empowered as they have the ability to better control how they work. I know when my boss agreed to allowing me to work 2 days from home a week, I felt I was trusted more and this increased my feeling of loyalty and respect.

  • It helps attract the right talent

By not being limited to hiring people in the immediate vicinity it opens up your talent pool and allows you to hire the right people, not just what you have in front of you. Plus anyone that has had to recruit in NZ, especially the technology space, knows how hard it is to recruit and retain the Gen Y’s. But they are particularly attracted to flexible work arrangements (rating among benefits as an 8 on a 10 scale for impact on overall job satisfaction). It also increases the ability to employ disabled workers, and workers that would have otherwise felt they needed to stay at home, like parents and senior caregivers. It creates more diversity through offering greater cultural, socioeconomic, and geographic employment opportunity. Plus many retiring workers might have done things differently if they were given more flexibility options – 71% of retired workers who later went back to work, originally retired because they wanted increased flexibility than their job was able to give them.

I know from my own experience as a recruiter in the technology industry we are in a candidate short market. If we look at UX/UI talent for example, I have numerous positions on at one time and minimal candidates who are truly suitable across to each one. Given the lack of openness to remote workers currently, which is understandable when companies aren’t yet set up in a way to allow it to work, it means you often have to compromise on what you want/need in the team. If the talent pool was wider and geographically remote candidates were considered, we could get more mature talent in teams. I do understand that not every position is best suited to being this but I think mostly it comes down to training managers on how to correctly manage those kinds of teams, and creating structure and process around it so people aren’t fearful of it, rather than it not being a really viable option.

  • It’s cost effective for everyone

Not only are your employees spending less on their travel costs and food costs (I can only imagine you would eat out less than when you are in an office), it can be cost effective for the business too. You can reduce office space and reduce costs associated with individuals in the office – supplies, equipment, etc. IBM decreased their real estate costs by $50 million. Plus, if there is any kind of natural disaster that prevents people coming into work, it doesn’t affect your business as they are not having to come in anyway, so work can continue on. Furthermore, in studies it has been shown that 36% of employees would choose work from home/flexibility over a pay raise. Another survey of 1,500 technology professionals revealed that 37% would take a pay cut of 10% if they could work from home.

  • It creates balance

I believe strongly in creating balance in your life and this is something we often lack. By allowing flexibility and working from home, people are much better equipped to deal with the demands they have from home as well as work. If we think about all the outdoor space and activities we are able to do on our doorstep here in New Zealand, it can also allow more time to embrace these activities which develops healthier employees in mind and body which in turn can increase productivity and overall wellbeing.

GLOBAL ROLE MODELS

Finland is a great benchmark for changing the way they consider employment and working arrangements. They are “way ahead of the curve thanks to a new Working Hours Act. Due to come into force in 2020, it will give the majority of full-time employees the right to decide when and where they work for at least half of their working hours.” They see this adoption as a natural reflection of the changes in the modern world we live in.

“Under the new legislation, workers will still be expected to put in an average of 40 hours a week, but this could include a multitude of different arrangements from regularly choosing fixed days to be based “at your summer cottage or your favourite coffee shop”, to starting and finishing early in order to manage childcare or be able to exercise outdoors while it’s still light. Some younger workers, she argues, are likely to ask to work longer hours for a fixed period to “bank” time off for long-haul travel. Employees and their managers will be asked to discuss their expectations in advance and draw up a contract for any new arrangements”. This statement reflects again my points on believing everyone has different motivators, ways of working and lifestyles. Creating this flexibility allows everyone to work at their best, rather than as dictated to by a company.

Interestingly there is a link seen between Finland adopting this way of working and it’s culture of trust. They are seen as having more trust than most other countries in Europe. I think trust will be a big part of this working or not in our businesses here in NZ. My instinctive counteraction to this being a concern, is not only why are you employing people you can’t trust unless they have someone physically peering over their work but also, I can guarantee if you think someone is going to be lazy or slack at home, chances are likely they are already being slack and lazy in your office whether you have noticed it or not.

Let’s be real too….

Why it might not work for everyone and some solutions around this:

  • CONNECTEDNESS

It becomes a new responsibility of the managers to keep people feeling connected to the people and business as well as completing their necessary tasks. I can understand that people might feel like they will lose those connections and relationships they have built over time by not being so physically connected on a day to day basis. This is all possible but attention needs to be given to it rather than assume the worst. There are so many ways to connect still and adopting a flexible and remote working environment doesn’t mean having zero touch points with the team.

  • TRUST

Not all management trust their employees and I’m sure that for some it is rightfully so, but also for many it’s just a shift in mindset and them feeling out of control when they can’t physically see them. But to counteract this effective measurements need to be put in place to set goals and tasks. If employees don’t deliver on these and other measurements that they are set, then it will be clear to see and the right conversations can happen at that point. Finland government representatives also recognised potential issues with “an emergence of new groups of employees who are less protected or less aware of their rights,” he says. “Equally, managers in companies may not be fully knowledgeable about what is okay and what is not.” This is also going to be something that needs to be addressed. As I mentioned earlier though, if you are employing people you cannot trust then that might say more about your recruitment techniques than anything else. I can assure you people can be slack at home AND at the office. But there is no need to hinder those that can. If there are distinctive parameters around eligibility for remote working, then it can make things easier if people aren’t delivering.

  • NOT EVERYONE WANTS IT

I also understand for some, this is not an attractive option. It could be they feel that they need people around them, or to be in an office environment to feel motivated to work well. But remember from the social aspect, you can see use multiple different technologies and tools to stay connected. Plus there are shared work spaces popping up all over, and you can work from cafes if that suits you better. It’s definitely important to have a defined work space at home, so you switch into work mode and feel focused. It is also important that everyone knows how to use all the tools required to make this effective and ensure they are totally comfortable with them. There can also be some concerns that by not being seen, individuals will not be remembered and they worry it will effect their career opportunities. I think again this comes down to communication. As long as you stay connected, that will not be an issue. Telephone, instant messaging, emails and some face to face meetings can still be used to keep in regular contact with the team.

  • JEALOUSY IN THE TEAM

It can create feelings in the team if things aren’t communicated in the right way. If there are some working remotely, with others not being offered the same, it needs to be clearly and openly communicated as to why. It also needs to be seen as an earned rather than an automatic privilege and a process should be created to govern who does or does not qualify for it.

  • SECURITY

Some managers are concerned about data security. These definitely need to be looked at and any issues that arise, need to be solved. But when remote workers are given adequate training around how to go about setting themselves up and working from home, this does not need to be a concern. Statistics show those that work from the office and occasionally take work home are more of a security concern than remote workers.

  • CHANGES TO INFRASTRUCTURE

Companies might need to look at changing certain things to allow employees access to the systems and software from home – but this is a worthy investment if there is one, as once it’s achieved, productivity increases for so many people.

  • MEASURING WORK HOURS

It can be trickier to account for overtime and understanding employer responsibility over accidents occurred from workers whilst at home. These are things that need to be addressed and a process created around it, but there are solutions.

In conclusion, I think there are just too many benefits to this to be ignored. I can say from personal experience it works really well for me and I think teams can still stay cohesive and efficient, if not more so. I think it needs to be assessed by the business so that the right processes and structure is set up around it to enable it to work at its best and people need to understand that change can be tricky for some/many and it will take a bit of time to adjust to a different way of working for some of the team. Remember, by giving it a go at least you can start to see what works best for your team in particular and make adjustments as you go. Nothing has to be forever, but if you don’t try you never know.

References

https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/resources/costs-benefits
https://www.bytestart.co.uk/reasons-consider-work-from-home-policy.html
https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190807-why-finland-leads-the-world-in-flexible-work

Extroverts and Introverts – they can both thrive in your workplace.

I worked out not too long ago I fall into the extroverted introvert category, which may come as a surprise to many. I thrive one on one but put me in a group social and/or work situation and my anxiety sky rockets and often I make a run for it. If I don’t manage to escape it is extremely energy draining for me. I tend to come home after work and really need my space and quiet to get back to normal, which can be tricky when you live with a partner/friends/family. Even I didn’t understand this for a while but now I have established what works for me and how I can add value in a workplace situation despite the drawbacks as a result of this trait, plus I know how to set up my day to balance it out.

Interestingly scientists now define introverts and extroverts more by their reaction to rewards. Introverts “are not necessarily turned inward; rather, they are less engaged, motivated, and energised by the possibilities for reward that surround them. Hence, they talk less, are less driven, and experience less enthusiasm.” Interestingly, for extroverts that reward is social attention and this can be linked to money, power and personal alliances. Seemingly extroverts have just developed a “high-intensity strategy for gaining social attention”.

If you think about it, from an early age extroverts tend to be more rewarded than introverts. If you actively participated in class by raising your hand you were rewarded. If you were good at making friends and playing in a group as a kid you were perceived as having great social skills, unlike children that preferred playing solo. It’s really important that introverts find their place in a workforce and that as a people leader in particular you integrate them into the team where they fit best. A study at the University of Northern California showed 96% of managers and executives showed extroverted characteristics. But another study by Harvard and Stanford showed introverted executives make better leaders, so let’s give them both the best chance of success.

TIPS FOR LEADERS WITH INTROVERTED TEAM MEMBERS:

Ask for their opinion

Often an introvert won’t volunteer their opinion in meetings but if you ask them their feeling/opinion when you know it’s something they have an opinion on, or you know they have something valuable to add, then you can see them thrive. If you have a particular problem you want their help on, go ask them – they will appreciate it. I know from personal experience this worked really well for me. I was often reluctant to talk in meetings but if it was something I was passionate about, my boss was great at sensing that and asking me and at this point I found my ability to speak eloquently about a topic, even though I had been terrified at the thought.

Check your volume

You might think you are speaking at a normal level, but even so, for most introverts you probably sound loud! Not only this but the body language of extroverts tends to get them noticed as soon as they enter a room – pace at which they walk and physical gestures tend to be more noticeable. Maybe just try and bring it down a notch and become a little more aware.

Meet one on one

Introverts can be intimidated by a group scenario so it’s important to organise one on ones. A lot of introverts won’t volunteer discussions around topics that they are finding tricky or if it is about conflict, so ask the question as it is a means of granting them permission to discuss the tough stuff with you.

Listen as well as talk

This can be tricky, especially for extroverts. They love a good yarn and each story can take a while to get to the point. I think this can be a lot to do with the way they speak as they think, rather than slowing down and taking the time to think first, then speak. Try to LISTEN more than you talk. If you consciously aim to do this, it enables other people to get their point across so you don’t dominate every discussion. Even if this means you lose track of your next point, a great test is to listen, repeat back the point they made to confirm you interpreted it as they meant it, then continue to your point.

Give them time

Introverts analyse and think about ideas before discussing it so expect that they may need a bit more time than an extrovert at coming to a conclusion. Quick thinking is often rewarded and an extrovert may interpret a slower response as procrastination but actually an introvert may be able to bring you a deeper analysis and conclusion as they give the time to weigh up all the information before they come to an outcome.

Keep an open mind

We have a habit of taking this personally even if things aren’t aimed at you. If someone seems less responsive and looking to remove themselves from the room/conversation, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you or are seeking to ignore you. Introverts can need space and a little more time when building new relationships. Just keep an open mind and don’t make assumptions too early on, as you may well have it wrong.

TIPS FOR LEADERS WITH EXTROVERTED TEAM MEMBERS:

Be assertive

It is important as a leader to enable the whole team to contribute and sometimes extroverts can take the spotlight a bit too much, so you might need to be firm at times to ensure this occurs. They don’t often realise they are doing it either, so at times you might have to interrupt, or guide the conversation away from them and on to others

Ask them questions

Extroverts like to talk things through to come to a conclusion. But often they start talking before they have a finished thought, so asking questions can be useful to help them think through the problem they are trying to solve. (Note, an introvert could be great for this as they tend to absorb information well, think things through deeply then ask a great question that can manoeuvre the conversation back on track).

Let them speak

Whilst of course at times the might need to be quietened for the benefit of the team, it’s also important to support the energy that they command as they like to bounce ideas off others and talk, so it’s where you will get the best out of them. Give them opportunities that allow them to interact with others and thrive.

Why introverts are valuable in your team:

They are great at observing.

This can be really useful – if you want to know how good your leadership is, or find out things about the workplace you may not have noticed, ask an introvert (Obviously don’t take advantage of this by creating a perception of the introvert as being the tell tale within the team either).

An introvert needs less external reinforcement

This is also really interesting. I get so much satisfaction from knowing I have worked my butt off, and have been successful in achieving a goal or a target but I hate being rewarded by an employer in the form of speeches, prizes etc. because of the attention this brings on a group level. So as a leader, you don’t need to rely on those types of rewards to motivate an introvert.

They acquire fewer but deeper friendships/relationships

It tends to be the case that extroverts have numerous people they call friends but an introvert might just have a handful but they really cherish and value those few friends creating a deeper sense of loyalty and emotional intimacy. This can be applied in a work environment.

They are often self-starters

Interestingly because they have often already analysed a situation or task they tend not to need so much support at the start of projects/tasks. They have often already worked out how they will go about it. It is, however, important to note that although you might not feel as needed by them as a leader, it is wise to check in as they might also not pipe up as readily as an extrovert when they do need help.

They don’t seek as much approval from others

They tend to be less pressurised from those around them to cave in to a different decision if they have already come to their own conclusion. They take on board others thoughts/feedback but will still come to their own conclusion after analysing the situation.

Why Extroverts are valuable in your team:

They are great at expressing ideas

When you are starting a company, creating a new product for example, it is down to the people creating it that ensures its success. You need effective communication to help market and create visibility and here, often an extrovert will excel. If you look at a service based idea without a tangible product to showcase, you need to sell the concept to your potential customers – this is where an extrovert might do best.

They can energise a team and create engagement

An extrovert can be great for keeping a team motivated when it comes down to execution. Their energy can strengthen the team at crunch time and this is highly useful in highly pressured environments.

You can send them to networking events

Extroverts would be the ones to send to networking events and and seminars as they will tend to be better at selling to a potential customer, or having the confidence in a large networking event to engage and participate – they tend to be a bit more comfortable with the casual conversations required at such events.

They can be great at teamwork

Extroverts tend to be more comfortable in groups, unlike introverts which can be helpful in a team situation. Studies have shown when a team is in agreement on their goals, an extrovert is a great asset.

TIPS FOR THE INTROVERTS:

  • Plan quiet time

Often an introvert performing extraversion, like seeming energised in interactions with others, comes at price. This takes a lot of your energy. So, you need to help yourself out by factoring in time to decompress after such an event. Know the events that diminish your energy and make sure you have scheduled appropriate time around it to work alone and limit time in loud meetings and collaborative discussions on that day.

  • Educate your employers/colleagues on how best to deal with your introversion in meetings.

I had this happen on so many occasions and I waited too long to share with my boss/colleagues and it resulted in a major panic attack that lead to some serious health repercussions. If only I had done this sooner! You need to communicate with your team on how best to deal with it. You don’t deal so well with being put on the spot, but often this happens in an extroversion-orientated office environment. On the flip side you can also help yourself by preparing for meetings ahead of the game – do your best to anticipate and plan beforehand, so you stress less in the meeting if someone asks you to comment.

  • Be aware of stress signals

Interestingly, when put under stress an introvert will often revert to an extreme form of their preferred behaviour i.e. withdraw. But what can happen under extreme stress is an uncharacteristic reaction, the opposite of their normal behaviour – this happens if stress isn’t resolved and goes on too long. It tends to be an immature reaction such as an outburst, or highly emotionally charged behaviour. If you notice this happening, take time for breaks throughout the day to reflect on your thoughts and and feelings and this will in turn help regulate your stress levels.

  • Keep an awareness of your colleagues stress indicators

Remember that the same stress signals that apply to you can apply to your colleagues, and come out in similar ways. Just keep an eye on it as if things go on for too long, they also might end up internalising it and it becomes harder to read and recognise.

  • Get to know your coworkers

Sometimes introverts can come across as unfriendly as they are less inclined to small talk and often work better independently. Often though introverts love spending time with others but just on their own terms. Whilst an extrovert may thrive in the group work outings, you might be better one on one. So schedule some of that time in with your colleagues so you can get to know them in an environment that you are comfortable in.

  • Get out of your comfort zone

Unfortunately, although you might not want to hear it, you do need to get more comfortable with speaking up and presenting if you want to progress in your career down certain paths (not all). If this is the case, you need to get more used to public speaking so you can get your point across, or give an important presentation. Toastmasters is a great one and although you may never be totally comfortable, it will be noticeably easier nonetheless.

  • Choose the right job for you!

There is no job that solely includes or excludes extroverts or introverts. But, if you are in a sales environment and aren’t comfortable with certain aspects of the role, work out what you thrive in and what you don’t and talk to your employers to see if the role can be adapted to suit your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

And just remember….

Situations demand different things. Interestingly studies showed extroverts energised groups that were already in agreement. But if you throw them into a conflicted team, it can cause more conflict. This can be due to their style of sharing opinions seeming domineering and aggressive. Ambiverts, a blend of both, might be the best trait (remember personality traits sit on a spectrum, there are not just either extreme). If you can know when to flex your extroversion but also when to take alone time to reenergise, you might be on to something. I am somewhat lucky because I am extremely self aware, and although I hadn’t known there was a name for it, I was able to identify a while ago where I thrived and where I didn’t. It’s just the introvert part of me didn’t necessarily speak up to others in time for them to understand before it had implications (i.e. my anxiety and panic attacks).

Hopefully this article may help you to realise where you sit on the spectrum and make some useful adjustments in the workplace to enable you and your team to optimise your performance. It’s important to realise that there may be different methods of working needed for different personality traits. Introverted workers might not always benefit from a team working approach and may need some space and time to create their own ideas, which is the opposite to an extrovert that thrives off social interaction to bounce ideas of others.

Below are a few links that might help you as a team leader:

  1. Cain’s Ted Talk on introverts
  2. Great questions you can ask an employer to gain a better understanding of your team
  3. Ashton, M. C., Lee, K., & Paunonen, S. V. (2002). What is the central feature of extraversion? Social attention versus reward sensitivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(1), 245–252.