Home office seems to lead a zombie life. Not really dead, but not really alive either. People have been talking about it for decades, even if it wasn’t always called that way. In the past, for example, teleworking was synonymous and today home office is an elementary component in the terms „Work Smart“ or „Future Work“. But as old as the topic is, the establishment in the companies seems to be difficult. Eyebrows still curl in many offices when someone works in their own four walls or uses the time on the train for (paid) work.
Cultural development as a central challenge for „Work Smart“
The „Work Smart“ initiative was founded in summer 2015 to change the cultures in Swiss organisations and the way employees work. A large number of companies have already signed the „Work Smart“ Charter, and have thus made a (symbolic) commitment to increase the flexibility of their working day.
Swiss Post was the first signatory to the Charter and has been a sponsor of the initiative ever since. Since then, the Group has taken various measures to promote flexible working. The big challenge, however, is the change in culture. Because if the various possibilities for flexible working are not used, then all efforts run into the void.
The Experiment: Both Intervention and Learning Field
That’s why I started an experiment last year with Franziska Röthlisberger from cultural development and together with a business team from the PostMail division. The experiment should not only provide the team with a safe space to try out different working methods; it should also promote active testing. In addition, the internal specialists also wanted to gain insights in order to advance the cultural development of the postal group. The experiment was also accompanied by Barbara Josef, who as an external consultant has already supported several companies in promoting „Future Work“.
Flexible working as the focus of the experiment
This experiment, which the participants called „Future Work Experience“ (FuWoEx), focused primarily on the promotion of flexible working hours and location-independent work. Josef distinguished four scenarios for the team, which the team members should actively deal with during ten months:
|working scenario||Options to experiment with|
|First Place («Office»)||– Flexible working hours
– Flexible choice of office space
|Second Place («Home Office»)||– Work at home
– Flexible working hours
|Third Place («Co-Working»)||– Working with a customer or in other locations
– Flexible working hours
|Forth Place («Mobile»)||– Work on the road
– Flexible choice of work location
– Flexible working hours
Continuous reflection to support cultural development
After the kick-off in spring 2017, when the team was equipped with tools and instruments for the experiment, both the internal cultural developers and Barbara Josef accompanied the experiment throughout its entire duration. An important lever for the team members was the learning journal, in which experiences were regularly recorded. In addition, various reflection platforms were organized. These platforms were interpreted both formally (e.g. in the context of the qualitative and quantitative assessment), as well as more informally (e.g. in the context of workshops or planned exchanges at an organized „happy hour event“).
After completion of the experiment, a conclusion can be drawn from two perspectives. From the point of view of the participating business team, the question of whether „Work Smart“ can now be used adequately and whether this has resulted in a benefit for the team (and its productivity) is of interest. The internal cultural development would additionally like to learn how the findings of this experiment can be scaled.
The results for the experimental team can be summarized as follows:
- The use of „Work Smart“ was supported by an appropriate (trust) basis in the team and appropriate technological tools
- Through the experiment, new behaviours were first legitimized and then established
- Team-internal obstacles to the use of „Work Smart“ were overcome through regular reflection and open dialogue. An important instrument was the learning journal, which was kept at the same time.
- The experiment led to better planning of work location and work content and adaptation to individual productivity.
- There were fewer „idle“ times during customer visits.
- The team members were more motivated and perceived an increased entrepreneurial spirit because they felt more independent and more responsible.
- The employees felt that the experiment has increased mental flexibility and agility in the team.
- Team productivity has improved because there has been deliberate discussion and coordination of how the team must work together. Shared times were used more valuable and thus more productively.
The following insights could be gained from the experiment:
- Cultural barriers that hinder the promotion of „Work Smart“ must be removed:
- Physical presence as a necessity for a positive performance assessment
- Command and Control management
- Intolerance towards different working styles
- Employee obedience ahead of time
- Sticking to old habits
- In order to make work more flexible, various pitfalls must be avoided
- Rigid home office days or office hours
- Lack of coordination in the team
- Too many sessions
- No clarification of expectations
- The necessary skills must be developed to make optimum use of „Work Smart
- Know the technology and its possible applications
- Maintain networks even when absent
- Ability to change and agility
- An advance of trust must be granted by both managers and team members so that the new working methods can be tried out and applied in a sustainable manner.
- Establish and strengthen team reflection and team dialogue in order to use the increased need for coordination to increase productivity
- Start with an experiment to try out the unusual.
- Individual reflection during testing to find out what works and what doesn’t (e.g. Work Journal)
- Exchange of good practices between teams