Archive for July, 2011

Guest Post: Telework vs. Troglodytes

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(While I’m on vacation, my friend, Kathie Lingle, Executive Director of WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress, it taking over blogging duties for this week.  Enjoy!)

Lately, it seems like everyone’s talking telework.

In the public sector, Congress has passed a series of laws designed to get employees out of the cubicle. In the private sector, the Society for Human Resources Management recently reported there has been a small increase in employers offering telecommuting on a full-time basis. Another recent study shows that the vast majority of leaders and managers intellectually grasp the business case for telework: it’s green; it cuts costs; it improves health outcomes, productivity, and engagement. We also know that today’s technology (including security protection) is sophisticated enough to support work wherever it takes place.

Sounds like a whole bunch of teleworking must be going on all across the land, right? Well, not quite.

According to my triangulation of the numbers from several disparate reports, somewhere between 6 – 8% of the Federal workforce and approximately 10 – 12% of all non-self-employed U.S. employees are teleworking at least one day per month. Not exactly a steady diet, and anything but a groundswell.

If this strikes you as underwhelming, that’s precisely the key message of WorldatWork’s Special Report, Telework 2011. For the first time in the nine years we’ve been monitoring the telework trend line, the number of employed Americans who worked remotely at least one day a month dropped between 2008 and 2010. This decline was relatively small—just shy of 6%—but it follows years of gains.

In spite of all the attention being paid to the merits of telework, there has been a surprisingly low uptake in something so powerful that it can simultaneously make people feel healthier, work more productively and reduce expenses.  If this were a piece of software, it would be selling like hot cakes, no matter what the price.  But the product is not the problem. People are the problem.

Not all people. Just the troglodytes among us. You know who I’m talking about. If you haven’t ever worked for (or with) one, you know someone who does. You’ve already refreshed your memory via dictionary.com, so let me hasten to skip over “prehistoric cave dweller” and skip right to my favorite part, which cites a slang word from 1956, “trog,” meaning:

A person unacquainted with affairs of the world, devoid of a single progressive idea and lacking the slightest awareness of social and cultural advances.

The path to job autonomy is an obstacle course populated by trogs who throw out an endless variety of challenges and objections, many of which are contradictory and unsubstantiated.

How do I know you’re working if I can’t see you?

We tried that once and it didn’t work.

I gave up everything for this job and you will, too.

Only slackers are interested in this sort of thing!

The trogs’ complaints go on and on. I’ve been in the work-life field for more than 20 years, and the chorus of trogs has never disappeared. Every new advance in telework research or policy is met by a chorus of naysayers. Sometimes the trogs are even
in organizations that were once recognized as trailblazers in workplace flexibility but have come under new leadership.

So where do we go from here, realizing that we may be losing ground, even if temporarily?  I have three ideas:

1) We’ll get there. We have to keep our collective eye on the Big Picture, to paraphrase the futurist Mary O’Hara-Devereaux. Her metaphor of navigating through a rugged transition zone between the now obsolete Industrial era to a new set of values, practices and structures strikes me as both prophetic and comforting.  We will get to the other side, but the journey is going to continue to be uneven and occasionally painful.

2) It’s up to you. If those who work want more control over the conditions of their work, they are going to have to exert the courage to make that happen. Research can be done and policies can be put in place, but in the end, each person has to make it happen for themselves.

3) Expose the trogs for the out-of-touch obstructionists they are. You can’t assume those designated as “in charge” will do this for you, because, as you probably know, sometimes they are the trogs. If there are people in your business putting up roadblocks to telework, it may be time to start proving your case by showing them just how well it can work.

The good news is that no one in a business context actually intends (or can afford) to be a troglodyte. They may be scared of new ideas, but when they see them start to work, they convert themselves like transformers. And remember that trogs are in the minority, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. They are simply adept at making a lot of attention-grabbing noise.  Most people around you are also struggling to make their job fit with their life, so you can safely recruit them as allies.

Future of Work+Life Fit

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(Melissa J. Anderson at TheGlassHammer.com wrote a great article about the recent 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey. Check it out below…)

“One of the things that surprised me was how significantly fear related to flex has gone down,” began Cali Yost, CEO and Founder of Work+Life Fit, Inc. Since 2006, Yost and her team have been studying attitudes toward work/life fit and flexible work schedules. This year, Yost said, the results were encouraging – not only is flex scheduling more the norm, but fewer people are concerned that it may harm their chances for higher pay or promotion.

That’s a good thing, Yost explained. “Flex is no longer a thing only a few people have and many are afraid of. Most of us have it in a different form. Now we need to move to the next step – how we can make it work.”

She added, “We have to make it as good as it can be.” (Click here for more)

Work+Life Flex Here to Stay and We’re Less Afraid of It — Work/Life Nation Interview

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Judy Martin of Work/Life Nation recently conducted a great video interview with me about the findings from the NEW 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check — Check it out! Thanks, Judy.

“Do I Tell Everyone I’m Leaving Work to Go To the Gym, or Do I Just Leave?”

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(This post originally appeared in Forbes.com)

A couple of weeks a ago I facilitated a work+life fit panel of senior women business leaders at the Forte Foundation’s MBA Women’s Conference. The conversation between the leaders and the student attendees was so rich and informative, I thought it would be interesting to continue the dialogue in a series of posts on ForbesWoman.

The goal of our panel was to share lessons learned with students from our journey to fit work into our very different but equally busy lives. To make the dialogue as open and honest as possible, all of the panelists moved our chairs to the other side of the official dais. I even asked the students to imagine this was a “girls afternoon out” rather than a conference in the hopes it would make them comfortable to ask even the  most basic questions.

Our session could have continued far beyond the 75 minutes allocated. The work+life fit concerns of the young women MBA students were insightful and important. And the responses from the panelists were equally as interesting and oftentimes different. But the point wasn’t to get an “answer,” but to start a supportive, candid dialogue across the generations from which we can all benefit.

My next few ForbesWoman posts will highlight a different question posed by one of the MBA students either to the panelists or offline to me afterwards. I hope the community will jump in and offer their thoughts, so that together all of us, but especially the next generation of women leaders, can “Lean into your careers.”~Sheryl Sanberg COO, Facebook.

Here’s the first work+life fit inquiry….

“Should I Tell People I’m Leaving Work to Go to the Gym, or Should I Just Go?”

To disclose or not to disclose, that is the question.  The answer is a tough one  (Click here for more)

Can Retail, Call Center and Housekeeping Staff Have Work-Life Flexibility?

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)

Over the past five years, new research shows that we’re all much more comfortable with the concept of work+life flexibility.  We no longer expect lawyers, managers or web designers to always show up to an office, 9-to-5, Monday through Friday.  But what about retail sales associates, call center workers, or housekeeping staff in hotels?

Can low-wage hourly workers access the same work flexibility to manage their lives both on and off the job?

According to two recent reports, the answer is “yes, but…” The authors of Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-Wage Hourly Workers: A Framework for a National Conversation, Liz Watson, Legislative Counsel, Workplace Flexibility 2010 and Jennifer E. Swanberg Ph.D. Associate Professor, University of Kentucky and Executive Director, Institute for Workplace Innovation, and of Improving Work-Life Fit in Hourly Jobs: An Underutilized Cost-Cutting Strategy in a Globalized World, Work Life Law, UC Hastings College of the Law say:

Yes, low-wage hourly workers can flexibly manage their work+life fit and businesses will realize tangible bottom line benefits.  But it requires:

Understanding that the work+life fit issues and, therefore, the solutions for low-wage hourly workers are more complex. Some low wage workers need more flexibility in their jobs, some need less, and some just need more work in order to find a better fit. Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-Wage Hourly Workers has a great chart that clearly lays out the too much flexibility/not enough flexibility challenge of low-wage workers:  (Click here for more)