‘The farther one travels the less one knows’
(Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, or The Beatles, depending on your personal source of enlightenment)
Whilst the purists amongst you may be inclined to think about inherent wisdom, meditation and personal enlightenment when reading this well known adage, one could argue that, back in the day, when Lao Tzu was first inspired, he may have been thinking something else. Maybe he concluded that the farther one travelled and became aware of the myriad of different things, people, cultures, languages, inventions, natural wonders, alternative philosophies and religions in the world that one didn’t fully understand, one was likely to hit Step 2 on the Competency Ladder (Consciously Incompetent ) with quite a thud with little or no means to clamber up to Step 3 or 4 (Consciously or Unconsciously Competent).
However, had our Taoist guru been around in these Digital Days, would the same be true?
We now have the answers to all our questions at our finger tips (thank you Google), we have experts and gurus at hand on online forums on pretty much any topic (for example, check out our own Expert Connect). We can even ‘phone a friend’ at any point with our constant mobile companion or take a picture of something incredible when out on our travels to check later with the right person – friend or forum - to explain it.
True, we may come across more and more unknowns as we travel farther afield but in today’s Digital World, it is only a matter of (often a very short amount of) time before we have our questions answered and we know more and more.
So, what has this to do with Working Globally and Being Local you might well ask?
Well, I was thinking about this in the shower the other day (you get very little other opportunity for reflection as a full time working mum with two children under 5) and it got me thinking more about travel, knowledge and connectivity on a personal level.
It occurred to me that the more globally I worked, the more local I could be.
I didn’t need to travel anywhere to learn more and to connect with experts and knowledge. I probably learn less on a daily basis when having to build travel (commuting) into my day and as a result, lose an extra couple of hours I could be working, learning and making meaningful connections from my desk at home when instead, I am so squished between other commuters at rush hour that I can’t even open a book or get to my iPad. Maybe Lao Tzu had a point after all…
Global projects with programme teams spread across the world seem to be the ones that enable me to work most flexibly, often from my home office. Most of the project team members are in different locations, countries and even continents so regular face-to-face working is very limited and extremely cost prohibitive.
On the other hand, London-based projects much more frequently expect ‘facetime’, unfortunately not of the capital ‘F’ variety.
Why is that? Do trust levels go down when workers are based closer to home? Are London-based teams less open to flexible and remote working than international ones? Travel costs are of course lower to swallow but that doesn’t mean travel and accommodation costs are too trifling to bother with. Particularly whilst we are still only at the beginnings of economic recovery, why don’t more employers jump on the remote-working bandwagon? Even a DWP initiated taskforce as far back as 2009 cited the example of BT saving £500 million on accommodation costs saved by enabling more home working.
You may or may not have seen our research in partnership with the CIPD on Smart Working back when Digital Transformation was a mere twinkle in our eye or our more recent work on today’s connected workforce, ‘Towards People 2.0’. Whether or not you have seen any of these things so far (if not, they are worth a read), my point is, we are sooooo well technologically connected and equipped with a wealth of easy to use, easily accessible and often free digital tools to enable us to work with colleagues and connect to experts on the other side of the world in an instant, why are so many of today’s workforce still office bound? Not to mention that as we all know, remote working saves businesses money and flexible working significantly increases employee satisfaction and retention.
The government-commissioned Fourth Work Life Balance Survey even highlights that: ‘Those with flexible working arrangements were more likely to work long hours, suggesting that such practices facilitate greater labour market involvement.’
With massive cost savings and a workforce who work even longer hours for their employers, in addition to significantly improved employee satisfaction and retention (see the recent CIPD Flexible Working report), why has the Flexible Working Revolution not taken off?
The government Family Friendly Working Hours Taskforce identified that a shift in culture was needed in employers. They therefore came up with a ‘Strategic Recommendation’ to help support cultural change through the development of an online portal to support flexible working. Whether or not the portal did materialise, given the rather low stats in the latest CIPD Flexible Working report: only 25% of employees surveyed used flexitime, 20% worked from home regularly and only 14% of employees worked remotely, my conclusion is that, though absolutely right and very well meaning, it hasn’t been too influential yet.
So, what to do?
Well, biaised as I am as a working Mum very keen to move us in the right (aka, much more flexible) direction and as a professional change manager, might I suggest the government and any interested business leaders wishing to affect this change, seek advice and support from some culture change experts?
Funnily enough, I even know one or two I could personally recommend…