How many times do you see ‘flexible working’ in a job description and wonder what it actually means? As a term it could cover a multitude without clarification – does it mean flexi-time, or only if you’ve got children to pick up from school? Does it mean you can occasionally work from home, or again only if you have ill children or parents or someone else to care for? Does it mean a flexible dress code or simply dress down Fridays?
I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about why it’s awesome to work at GDS. There’s the obvious, of course, which I’m sure I don’t need to explain. But I’ve been thinking about the little things, the often taken for granted things, which mean my working life suddenly seems to be a seamless transition between work and home instead of feeling like I need to wear two hears all the time – work head and home head.
Now, I acknowledge freely that not everyone finds head swapping painful. For some, having a home and work persona and keeping them very separate is necessary, fulfilling, and sometimes confidence boosting too. But for some of us it can result in feeling a little like this:
|Image: Harry Potter Wiki
But without the drooling. Obviously. The point remains however, that I think that sometimes especially for geeks, the artifice that it’s felt is needed to create and maintain two personas is frustrating, irritating and actually really quite tiring.
So where does GDS come into this?
|Image: Great British Souvenirs
It’s interesting. I didn’t get a piece of paper listing all the ‘flexible’ ways GDS would make my life easier. It doesn’t even say in my job description that flexibility will be offered anywhere in any context. Yet I can wear Converse to work. I don’t, I find them horrid uncomfortable but irritatingly attractive, but I could. I’ve worn trainers, t-shirts and jeans but I’ve also been seen in a suit and will spend most of next week in one by the looks of it. I dress, in other words, appropriately for the places where I will be working, and the people with whom I will be doing business in those places. And I’m allowed to. No, actually, I’m trusted to.
And trust is probably the keyword when talking about flexible working. You have to trust your staff to not take advantage of the flexibility you’re offering them. From acknowledging that speaking at an event until 10pm the previous evening might mean a 9am start would be a little painful, to occasionally being able to work from home if it’s appropriate, not going to cause any issues and you don’t have any meetings, to being able to choose whether a meeting needs to happen face to face 50 miles away or if Skype would suffice – one of the biggest things I appreciate about working with GDS is the amount of trust placed in me to know when it is appropriate to do something and when it is not.
As a result of that trust, I no longer have the weirdness of having an in work and out of work persona. I no longer feel that my Twitter account needs to grow up and I don’t feel like being a geek is a barrier or complication. Instead, it’s just an easy blending and meshing of who I am at any given moment in time, observing, thinking, snapping photos, questioning, asking for help and generally just being ‘me’.
So I guess I need to acknowledge I am being spoilt right now. But I also think there is an important lesson here for lots of other people, in lots of other industries, not just government. If you trust your staff, and if you create relaxed and happy employees by trusting them and allowing them to either maintain personas or abandon them, you end up with productive people who can stop thinking about the complications of whether it’s okay to tweet about the X Factor on their Twitter account where they identify as a Civil Servant and move on to trying to add value to conversations during the week and being themselves at the weekend – on the same account. Or, if preferred, have two separate accounts, each clearly delineated.
But in a world where less and less people are making the distinction and where Twitter, because of its openness allows the seamless switch between personal and professional, it is something that employers are going to need to think about, even if not right now – because as social media contracts and expands once again and new tools appear, the way we behave socially and professionally online will inevitably bleed into the way we behave offline too. Both in the expectations of ourselves, but also the expectations that others have of us, in our willingness to be openness, to be comfortable with who we are everywhere and our ability to communicate effectively and reflectively, depending on who we are speaking to and the situation we find ourselves in.