Working 9-5: What A Way To Fake You’re Living
An early alarm snaps you from sleep. Bleary eyed, you rise to face the reality of morning. After taking a quick shower, you only have time to grab a bite to eat and spend a few minutes mindlessly scrolling through social media.
You peer outside to a grim, drizzly scene. It’s mid-winter and those wet, cold mornings are relentless. You walk to the station, but your train’s delayed – again. For the third time this week.
You arrive in the office slightly after nine (58.4 minutes is the average commute in the UK), greeted by your boss who snidely comments on your poor punctuality. It matters little that you often work late to complete projects, or check your emails in the evening or weekend.
Today, productivity is slow. It’s not until mid-morning, and two coffees later, that you’re finally settled and ready to crack on. You stay late, finish your tasks for the day, and take the return trip home. Another hour. In darkness.
Flexibility is restricted. Input controlled.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. You know you can do your job just as well at home, or anywhere. Sounds familiar, right?
Working 9-5. What a way to fake you’re living
It’s a situation facing millions. Working rules that focus on the input and how much you’re working – the number of hours each day, how long your lunch break is, how often you can take a smoking break, the number of annual leave days you’re allowed.
Input, input, input.
Imagine if there was a better way to measure success. It does exist.
Output is the true (and only) performance indicator. How happy your clients are, the quality of your work, the number of sales you make, the targets you achieve.
So, why does the world focus on input? Why do we care how much someone works, as long as they get the job done?
It makes no logical sense.
The old way doesn’t work
Businesses base their frameworks on the 5% who would abuse trust and freedom. Not the 95% who can, will, and want to do an amazing job.
If we’re to change the dynamics of work, we need to start from a position of trust. Believe the best in people. Believe people will do the right thing.
One person may love getting up and cracking on with work at 8am. Someone else will find their productivity levels higher in the afternoon or evening. Some find the office an energising place, while others find it distracting compared to the quiet of their own home.
Everyone is different.
This isn’t to appease the so-called (and poorly termed) ‘snowflake millennials’. It makes complete business sense. If you want people to be more productive, let them choose how, when and where they work to give them that opportunity.
It’s not possible for every industry, I know that. A surgeon can’t operate remotely (excuse the pun). But where it makes sense – where it makes a real impact on the productivity levels, motivation, and happiness of your team – why not?
We’re fortunate to be in an industry where this is possible. Reddico (a digital marketing agency) moved to complete flexibility in 2018, following an overhaul of the company culture. With 30 people in the team and plans to grow to 50 over the next 18 months, we can now recruit from all over the UK (and the world).
There are three concepts:
- Work anywhere you want
- Work the hours you want
- Take as much annual leave as you need
Let’s look at how you could build these into your operations without an accompanying 1,000-word rules and procedures document.
Work anywhere you want
A study from The Independent highlighted how the number one perk people want (in every demographic) is unlimited holiday or flexible working.
Then a global pandemic hit.
Businesses were forced to adapt and think fast. Companies that’d turned a blind eye to remote working and refused the option to work from home, had it quite literally rammed down their throats.
But horror stories remained. People would need to sign in and out each day to make sure they were online. Others would need to reply to an instant message within a certain amount of time. Even worse, companies installed software to randomly screenshot throughout the day.
Talk about a lack of trust at every level.
It once again comes down to output. And you can operate a working from home policy with just one bullet point.
Make a positive impact on your job, your team, your clients, and the company in general.
It’s pretty simple, but only possible when you start from a position of trust.
At Reddico, we’ve taken it one step further and introduced working from abroad. Our team can live overseas permanently, or even work whilst travelling. All we ask is they make a positive impact on their job, their team, their clients, and the company in general.
Work the hours you want
This is the next level of trust: giving teams the opportunity to actually work in a way that’s right for them.
In our early days we focused too much on the fun elements of culture (the nights out, the beer fridge, the table tennis), rather than setting our people free to really show us what they could do.
“It’s not what you give your people for free, but how you free people to give more.”
People want flexibility. It’s only natural. Why limit their potential?
And again, you don’t need an archaic list of rules and regulations to follow. Just keep it simple. You’re starting from a position of trust, remember?
- Choose working hours where you can make a positive impact on your job, your team, your clients, and the company in general.
- Your hours can fluctuate, so keep your team informed.
- Continue to deliver work on time, and work with your team to manage expectations.
Take as much annual leave as you need
Life throws a lot of curveballs.
In 2019 I had to juggle a wedding, honeymoon, three stag dos, my daughter’s school holidays and a 30th birthday. Consider a standard 20-day holiday package to manage all of that.
This is where the beauty of unlimited holiday comes in. Rather than restricting your team, put complete trust in them to get it right.
But, wait. There’s a lot of negativity around unlimited holiday.
- People won’t take enough: The implementation is key here. Be clear on your why. To focus on mental health and wellbeing. To give people freedom. To treat your team as adults. Since moving to unlimited holiday, annual leave taken at Reddico increased 33.9% across the team. We also set a minimum amount everyone must take each year.
- People will take too much: What’s the main issue here, that you won’t have control over people, or they will abuse the system? Either way you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Start with trust, remind people of their obligations to the company, and give them freedom to demonstrate what they can achieve without the shackles.
And the guidelines? You guessed it – simple, to the point, and easy to understand.
- Always make a positive impact on your job, your team, your clients, and the company in general.
- Try to give as much notice as you can.
- Always communicate and collaborate with your team.
And with no manager to approve it, people can book leave at their own leisure – working with their teams to provide cover.
How to measure output
Telling someone to measure output is a lot easier said than done. How do you actually measure it?
To answer this, consider how your business measures success? What red flags would appear if communication or performance began to break down?
We considered team relationships, client performance, and individual performance – identifying several ways to measure output.
- Individual targets: Self-set on a quarterly basis and agreed in teams.
- 360 team reviews: Run quarterly and aligned to the values of Reddico.
- Client NPS surveys: Providing clear, actionable feedback from our clients.
- Client performance: Performance against targets agreed at the beginning of campaigns.
The challenge of the journey
I’m often asked how hard the journey has been. Surely something must have gone wrong. There must be a lesson learned.
In reality, it’s been pretty straightforward. People have embraced their new sense of responsibility and freedom. They’ve relished the opportunities to dictate their work pattern. Trust hasn’t been misplaced or abused.
It feels natural.
However, we know it can be daunting for new members of the team. Especially those joining from traditional setups with limited flexibility – to be thrown into a world where you own input can be quite disorientating.
It’s not what you give your people for free, but how you free people to give more.
So we focus on the why. We remind new team members that these policies are in place to give them control, to offer a work-life balance that’s right for them, and to have true ownership of their career.
Before their first day, we send all new colleagues information on how it works. They can arrive at 10. Leave at 2. Work from home. Take annual leave.
We also run through the policies in the first week of onboarding, to drive the message home. To reenforce. To reassure.
Start with trust and it falls into place
Complete flexibility was a key part of our cultural revolution, which led to Reddico being named the 4th best place to work in the UK, and both our team and client NPS rising to world-class.
Offering this may be just the start for you, but it’s a good start. To have trust, freedom and responsibility in your role can’t be underestimated – it’s a true engager of people.
It’s the beginning of a journey towards an environment where teams aren’t treated as children, but as adults capable of making the right calls.
Just keep it simple.
Rules detract from the very concept you’re trying to create – where trust and freedom reign.
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Great read thank you. I have been home office for 13 years and can testify to the added benefits. It took the pandemic though for Managers and teams to really understand that.
Working abroad is still a tough nut to crack, on the legal/admin side. In most contries you can not be salaried in 1 country and live in an other, with some specific exceptions (swiss bordering countries for example).
There are still many issues on social security, pensions, taxes, health insurance.
So far the main answer is to be free lance but then that makes a much higher overhead for the free lancer, as much as 20% more compared to an identical salaried position.
How do you tackle working abroad at "Reddico" ?
I fully support & welcome a shift in mindset to this working model but would be interested in ways to compliment this, to allow for human engagement, building & working together in teams. In a remote / virtual work environment there is still a need for human interaction - is it core team hours. Mental health is a problem for many reasons and a balanced approach should be considered to allow situations to be tailored to individual needs. Any insights into this from your research would be greatly appreciated.
thank you for sharing your journey.
It sounds like you are describing a ROWE approach, first mentioned by BestBuy couple of years ago. What I like is that you don't shy the negatives of the story as well. As with many of these initiatives for more freedom, there is a downside if not enough attention is paid to the people.
Having a 9to5 structure was sometimes put in place to protect the workforce from a union perspective. Workdays of 12 to 14hours/day in the past were no exception, and are still existing in some countries. And asking your staff to work based on results, it does ask for an open and transparent 2-way communication on what those are. Similar to your remark on the unlimited leave, the less assertive staff can easily run into a burn-out when results are being pushed and no positive feedback is provided to them.
I'm definitely a fan of these initiatives, especially if the culture is there of total transparency and humanity. It does not work for all unfortunately as with so many things in life.
Keep up the good work and please do share your insights as you progress in the setup/structure.
Steve N. McLean
Thanks Luke, some great perspectives!
I like the saying "Rules are for fools." People know what's right or wrong and don't need to be told how to behave.
Worse still, rules are disempowering - the more you tell people what they can and can't do, the less personal responsibility they will take. This not only sniffles innovation and creativity, it is fundamentally inhuman and should be stopped!
Set your people free and help them discover their own special 'magic dust.'
Fantastic stuff Luke, thanks again.
Thank you, Ken.
It's a good question and something we're still in the early days of. Whilst we have team members now working all over the UK, we don't have anyone overseas yet (we added this policy a couple of months ago).
We do have someone planning to move to Canada full time next year, and from a personal tax perspective it'll be on the individual to make sure they comply. For short term / temporary cases there isn't too much of an issue if it's less than one calendar year – but we'll tackle any issues and find a solution if and when something presents itself.
We'll be supporting people as much as we can if they decide to take the step of moving abroad, and it's a challenge we'll work out together.
Absolutely, mental health is a huge focus for us in making sure the team are supported, and don't feel isolated. We continue to have the office open for those who like to come in (although reduced numbers with the current situation).
In terms of remote activities, we're a really social team. Our social committee regularly host events and activities to get everyone together, laughing and chatting in a really informal way, with games / quizzes etc.
We also have weekly all company updates, regular team brainstorming sessions and of course teams have their own internal catch-ups and support mechanisms.
We've signed up to work with Sanctus too – they provide mental health support and coaching, and also have our own in-house coaches the team can talk to at any time.
It's a huge shift being remote, compared to being in the office, so we've tried to support this in every way we can. We still have our face-to-face get togethers too for those who are close to head office (and when rules permit).
Thanks Steve, and you're right. There are so many outdated practices that just don't make sense in the business world anymore.
Unfortunately it's not a one-size-fits-all for every company, but where you can be flexible and work in self-managed ways, it really does make sense.
Believe the best in people and you won't be disappointed!
Great, but I wonder why people who are in charge don't share these ideas? A manager told me once: "look, I pay not only to get results but to have you here for at least 8 hours. Those hours are not yours but mine and the law is with me" (by the way in some countries labor laws don't allow to "take as much annual leave as you need"). What it takes to change this mindset?
Great article and love the sentiment. Increasing the amount of choice people can make is important if we want an adult workplace.
Perhaps just a bit on terminology, or perhaps something deeper.
I find outputs are only OK, as measurements. They are better than inputs, but still place to much emphasis on creating MORE stuff. Stuff that often doesn’t matter.
I often see output metrics, like number of things delivered to market over a period of time, or frequency a customer was serviced being misused, driving a more is better mindset.
My take on measurements are input < output < *outcome* metrics.
agile and lean startup provide some nice ideas here
Consider your business model as a set of unverified assumptions, and put a plan in place to validate those assumptions through experiments where you work with real market actors.
Measure lead time, total, and verified assumptions over time. Not mention actual customer behavior (assuming someone kind of digital footprint) as a result of an experiment.
Of course the exact method isn’t the point; the point is to measure what is actually helpful to increasing value. Outcome trumps output IMHO.
If we could tag one apocalyptic rider for adaptive organizations, it would be "traditional performance management." It is old-fashioned performance management that keeps us in a world of humans as resources, as command-and-control takers, with rigid top-down planning, and solid prevention of curious and exploratively-minded cooperation. Its logic is plan – do – check – act.