Your job is more than where you work or what you work on. It’s how you work, too.
Unfortunately, in many companies, the how of work is still out of the hands of the average employee. The blueprint for getting a project from point A to point B is instead governed by arbitrary rules and regulations that built for when the workplace looked and felt much different, and produced much different results.
Ever since Silicon Valley giants upended the way that the world thinks about things like commerce and community, they’ve also created a radical shift in workplace dynamics.
This disruption of economic power led to a new way of getting work done. The tech industry’s rise brought about a wave of change in workplaces everywhere. And ever since then, many traditional companies have been fighting to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle of Silicon Valley.
However, some companies are still skeptical. These new rules can easily be written off as time-wasting ideas cooked up by tech slackers, and seen as a distraction instead of a solution. But the truth is actually quite the opposite.
So, which old school workplace rules are to blame? Let’s take a look.
9-to-5 Work Days
While it seems like the traditional 9-to-5 work day has been around forever, it’s actually a pretty new concept. Ideas like the 9-to-5 hour work day were first popularized at the turn of the 20th century. In 1914, only 100 years ago, Henry Ford brought an early version of the eight hour work day to his factories (although the reality of it was a little more complicated).
The 9-to-5 work day may have defined the twilight of the Industrial Age, but the world has since moved on. What type of structure fits a worker’s day in the Information Age?
The main reason 9-to-5 work days might be holding your team back is actually very simple: people aren’t always productive at the exact same time of day. There are early birds. Night owls. Employees who love working in the early afternoon and employees who put in their best time right after dinner.
Instead of imposing strict office hours for the sake of tradition, why not allow your employees to do their work when they’re going to work their best?
Another important factor to consider is that modern life is increasingly complicated. From 1976 to 2015, the number of Canadian families with both parents working full time has doubled from 39% to 69%. As a result, for many families, there is far less time to get far more things done. From dropping kids off at daycare to running errands to picking up groceries, there are more obligations that need to be squished into an increasingly small amount of time.
People need flexibility to get things done and to keep their work/life balance in check. They need to be able to build their work day around their lives and not the other way around.
Strict Time Off Policies
It’s easy to scoff at unlimited vacation policies. If you give your team the freedom to take off as many days as they want, why would they bother showing up at all?
Giving your team unlimited vacation time requires a fundamental shift in how you think about the dynamic between management and their direct reports. It’s a practice in empowering your workforce.
By allowing unlimited vacation time, you’re letting your team know that you trust them to take time off when they need it. It lets your employees know that you appreciate the hard work they put in and you want to give them the freedom to take a step back, pause and collect themselves whenever they see fit.
On the flip side, strict time off policies can lead to unhappiness, disengagement and burnout. If your team is saving their vacation days for something special later in the year, they won’t be able to take time off when they actually need it in the present.
Say an employee is feeling particularly stressed about one of their current projects; having the freedom to take a break for a day and settle their thoughts can make all the difference. The next day, they’ll be able to come back into work refreshed and with a renewed perspective on their day-to-day.
Sick and personal days should be treated the same way. When you think about it, restricting sick days is almost ironic. Less sick days means less time to recover from potential illness which, in turn, can prolong illnesses and have employees dipping into their other time off reserves.
One of the most interesting aspects of unlimited vacation time is that sometimes doesn’t even result in employees taking more time off than normal. In one company’s case, the average time taken off with an unlimited vacation policy was only 14 days. The true difference with unlimited vacation time is not the amount of days that your employees will spend away from their desks, but how they’ll feel when they’re actually in the office. Trusted and comfortable.
No Workstation Flexibility
Modern workspaces recognize the need for variety. They’re versatile, adaptable and provide the chance for different kinds of work to get done. Some tasks require quiet seclusion while others come to life through social interaction and collaboration, but if your spaces don’t adapt, you’re missing out on the opportunity to maximize your team’s day-to-day.
If your office is still stuck in cubicle mode, there are small but effective ways to shake things up and give your employees to stretch their legs (and their minds).
Even something as simple as giving your employees the choice to sit or stand while they work can have a big impact. Standing desks are more than a fad: they can actually having a positive effect on both the health and productivity of workers.
Something else to consider is adding social workspaces to your office. Areas with couches and large tables can help cater to working and learning styles that rely more on social stimulation for success. These social spaces also lay the foundation for spontaneous collaboration between employees who may not normally interact. By having communal areas, you can bring people together and get them to exchange fresh ideas and perspectives that they can then bring back into their work.
Here’s another curveball about workstation flexibility: one of the best workspaces for your employees might not even be in your office.
The ability to work from home has become a more common perk recently at many companies. The idea of going about your daily work without needing to switch out of your pyjamas is attractive to many workers, but it’s actually great for their productivity too. In one study, 86% of employees surveyed preferred working from home to hit their peak productivity.
Working from home allows your employee to decide what kind of environment they need best to get the job done. A weekly work from home day can reduce fatigue and burnout from your employees, helping keep up morale and a work culture that supports a healthy work/life balance.
Even if employees enjoy wearing slacks or stilettos everyday, no one enjoys being told that they have to. There are so many different ways to get work done and how you feel while you’re doing your work plays a huge role.
A casual dress code is about more than being able to wear your favourite outfits to your day job, it’s about giving your employees more freedom and flexibility. By doing away with strict rules, you can let your team know that you trust them to make adult decisions about their work attire and give them way more latitude to define how they do their work.
Instituting a casual dress code doesn’t necessarily mean anything goes. It’s okay to still have some loose guidelines, it’s just about creating an environment that is more relaxed and that encourages people to be themselves rather than hold back.
It's not just startups or tech giants that are doing away with dress codes either, industries that have long standing traditions built on formal business attire like law and government are even moving toward more lenient dress codes.
Take JPMorgan Chase, for instance, the banking giant recently moved away from their strict business attire to a more relaxed business casual approach. Interestingly enough, the pressure to change came from the outside. Their clients were dressing more casual, so they needed to match their style to keep their visitors comfortable (and I’m sure JPMorgan Chase’s employees appreciate it, too).
Not only is it important for your team to feel comfortable while they work, but flexible dress codes can also be seen as a highly attractive perk. Offering flexible dress options can help attract and retain new talent, especially from industries that have already adopted more lenient dress codes like tech.
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