‘Work’: It’s a verb not a noun, so find somewhere else to get it done
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At Microsoft, managing director Pip Marlow doesn't have an assigned desk. She doesn't have an office, nor does she keep to traditional working hours.
In fact, as Microsoft HR director Rose Clements told me, Marlow may very well go into the office in the morning and then pop out for tuck shop duty at her daughter's school before returning to office in the afternoon. Her out-of-office email message will let you know exactly where she is.
Marlow actively demonstrates Microsoft Australia's culture of flexible work – which is now very different to the new mandate that's recently been handed down at the global offices of Yahoo by CEO Marissa Mayer.
According to Clements it's all about "activity-based working", where work is essentially a thing you do rather than a place you go. Microsoft doesn't have a list of flexible work options – as that would be inflexible – but rather encourages employees to figure out how best and from where to get the job done.
Activity-based working is a personalised and customised way to think about work, allowing employees to work from home, the office, a café, park bench, or anywhere that suits them. It requires highly-skilled managers – something a large corporation like Microsoft can easily afford – as well as a clear job description and the usual performance management processes.
It's also the kind of working arrangement that could completely change the nature of work for women. It does not rely on asking permission to do what you need to do away from the office – or a special conversation with a manager to fit some regular flexibility into your working hours. As such, it's less likely to generate snarky comments from employees who see a colleague leave the office "early" a couple of afternoons a week to pick up the kids from school. It allows employees to work during the hours they're most productive, to make time for non-work commitments, and it must ultimately help in alleviating the stress associated with trying to balance the too-often competing interests of work and life.
More importantly, it's reassuring to know senior managers are also engaged in this style of work. It's one thing to offer a work-from-anywhere approach, it's another to be an employee pursuing such arrangements and knowing your own boss isn't quietly crossing you off the promotion list because he or she doesn't see you sitting at a desk for a prescribed amount of hours each day.
But from an employer's perspective, such a working culture requires a lot of trust and I ask Clements if employees ever take advantage of the situation. She's adamant that doesn't occur. With a serious investment in management training, performance management procedures in place and clear deliverables on what employees are expected to achieve, Clements says staff get their job done.
"At the end of the day we employ adults and adults make decisions about their work," she told me.
Do you feel you're treated like an adult in your organisation? Leave your thoughts below.
Click here to read our interview with HR director Rose Clements on how Microsoft Australia manages a flexible work culture.