Christiaan Lam – over de dagelijkse avonturen van een mobiele manager
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24 x 7

24 x 7The question is not if, but when companies in large numbers are going to shift their working hours from todays ‘9 till 5′ to tomorrows ’24 x 7’. With todays traffic jams, even client sites in nearby cities are almost impossible to reach. The balance between private and office time is increasingly more important in the future than today. As the number of mind workers increases within most countries, the necessity for working in one location is deteriorating. In what way does this change the way in which we manage our employees?

Stores already extend their opening hours, construction workers shift their working hours en mass to avoid high traffic and most logistic companies operate at night. And supported by culture change, also office hours are discussed regularly at boardroom level. Is it possible to extend the office hours? To expand the possible places to work, like walk-in workplaces (single rooms rented by the company throughout the country), home, client locations and shared office space? To let go of the restriction to work 8 hours continuously but plan your own work.

As managers we see a lot of problems arise when we even start to think about letting go of the basic rules of office workers: start in the morning, work eight hours straight, go home. We see problems in meeting each other, look into another eyes, the glue of the coffee machine chitchat which keeps us all together, productivity dropping below zero and go one. If you think about it, it all boils down to one single thing: trust. We like to control our people, see them work, see the sweat on their faces. It reminded me of a (project)manager who asked an employee why he wasn’t coding the application. The employee responded that he was thinking how he should solve the problem he was facing. The manager stated: “Thinking doesn’t get us any closer to the end result, so just start coding the things you do know.”

The mind is not a machine. It cannot be turned on and off in a simple way. Mind workers don’t stop working if the clock hits five (although with proper training some people manage to reach this level of expertise). In my days as an software engineer, I solved most of the complex problems at night, in bed, just before (and sometimes while) I got to sleep. Do I get payed overtime for figuring these things out after working hours? No. Does the company gain profit from these events? Yes. Is this the same with a lot of other activities? I think so. Most of the – less important – mail I read in the evening. I make most of my phone calls while sitting completely stuck in traffic, trying to get home before my son gets to bed.

Personally I created one office free day in the week to actually do my todo’s instead of just writing them all down and to think ahead, planning where we are going and communicating the strategy which we all have to follow. Do I work eight hours straight? Certainly not. I start at 6.30 AM (my son is still young and enjoys life) with some coffee, and finish around 8.00 PM when he goes to bed and it’s time to make some dinner. There are enough breaks, but as most of the todo-list vanishes while time passes, I always end up feeling I have done more than I normally do in a week.

So, if I (and many other of my colleagues) trust ourself working not strictly from ‘9 till 5’, why would this be different for our employees. Do we really think they are less? Or that they, opposite to ourself, hate doing their job? They don’t want to reach goals? Or do we make this all up, just to have that feeling of enormous control, when you walk along their desks and see the sweat on their faces. Or do they just pretend to work…

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