Years and years ago I worked for a local authority. It was an old-fashioned one. With a paper clocking-in system. Clock in when you get in in the morning, clock out at night. If you had to go somewhere else? Write the deviation on the back of the piece of paper.
Yep. That was fun.
Especially as I was responsible for buying land from farmers and working with developers.
Especially as I was more out of the office than in.
Especially as the back of the card was never going to be enough.
It was never going to end well.
My rebellious nature had had enough of THAT particular system approximately 4 weeks, two days and 6 minutes into the job (I might be out by a minute or two), which happened to coincide with the Director's PA asking me detailed questions about every painstakingly recorded episode of absence from the council office.
I was spending millions on behalf of the council.
They trusted me with THAT, but not with how I spent the last half hour of the day?
Yep, the writing was on the wall. I managed 18 months there. Before I - and no doubt they - had more than enough.
You see, I do well in systems and thrive when I have structure.
What I don't do well is systems and structures that are outdated, make no sense and are upheld by people only because 'we've always done it this way'.
The pandemic happened. Even companies who were hellbent on NEVER allowing staff to work from home had to do just that.
For a brief, very brief moment, there was a glimmer of hope.
Only for it to be dashed by mandates to staff to return to the office, under the guise of innovation, collaboration and creative conversations next to the watercooler.
(And yes, if you ask me what you do at a watercooler I'll tell you exactly what I used to do: open my bottle, hold it underneath the spout, push the little handle down, fill my bottle, push the little handle back up, put cap back on bottle, walk back to desk. You?)
For staff, when they are grudgingly allowed to work from home to have monitors installed to make sure that you're not - you know - have excessive toilet breaks or - heavens forbid - stop typing (the most certain way of just KNOWING that you're not productive, dontyaknow).
And, to top it all off, for you not being promoted, because there are no adequate performance management systems in place and managers are not adequately trained to create an inclusive workplace.
Yes, I could write entire newsletters about how organisations could and should solve these problems.
But I won't.
Because for the moment I'd like to focus on you.
Because what to do when you find yourself in a situation like that?
1. Ask questions before you join
First of all, if remote working or flexible working is important to you, make sure you have agreement on how this is working in practice before you join.
And ask questions:
Is there a culture of people working from home?
How is performance being managed at this organisation?
What policies are in place enabling homeworking or flexible working?
How do people progress?
What are the Diversity and Inclusion statistics in this organisation?
2. Know and maintain your boundaries
Working from home? You might find yourself at your desk much (much) longer than in the office. Except, THAT is to the detriment of your productivity, your ability to concentrate, your health and to what extent you enjoy your work.
Create boundaries. Treat closing your laptop as the end of the working day. Don't answer emails after a certain time. Determine what works for you. And stick with it. It's important.
3. Take sick leave
I've done it. Worked through - what I now believe to have been - Covid. Three weeks of violent coughing and being cuddled up in four jumpers. But at my desk, answering emails and being on calls. A real hero, me. Except it didn't quite FEEL like that.
Don't do what I did (and you no doubt have done too). Sick leave is there for a reason. Take it. You'll be back to your best self in no time.
4. Manage your manager, and your team
Yes, the dreaded 11 pm email, that you simply HAVE to answer.
Your manager needs managing. What can you do to communicate your boundaries? Can you agree with your manager, and your team, ground rules for when communications is urgent and how that communications comes through? Can you discuss response times required for emails, Teams messages, phone calls?
Also, get (very) clear about what is expected of you. What output is required? By when? What are your goals? And how can you best work with your manager (or team) to ensure that everyone is aware if goals are being met?
5. Find another employer
Ultimately I left. Long before I ACTUALLY left, I left.
If your employer:
Is only committed to remote and flexible working in words, but not in action.
Doesn't have adequate policies (and systems) in place
Doesn't train its managers to performance manage and reward adequately and fails to make your workplace feel like an inclusive and safe space where you can do your best work
I'm sure there are companies that do.
Trust and a workplace where you feel safe and valued help you to do your best work.
Monitoring systems, lack of adequate performance management and lack of inclusivity breeds a lack of trust, fear, disengagement, rebelliousness and ultimately high turnover.
That's on the organisation to sort out.
Doesn't stop you from making the right decision for YOU.
That's what I think, anyway.
Tineke Tammes supports professional women in making successful transitions to careers of Freedom, Flexibility and Fulfilment! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler.
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