Times they are a-changin’ as Bob Dylan once said. Not sure ol’ Bob ever worked in a Spanish office but those words couldn’t be more relevant now.
When it comes to getting work done and getting it done effectively there is a definite shift in how we go about our day-to-day activities and the possibilities that are now available. People want more freedom in how they live their lives and carry out their work. The good news is that it’s available right now and can greatly benefit employers too.
David Brent Comes to Madrid…
I remember my experience working in a Spanish office. It was in my last ‘regular’ job and let’s just say they hadn’t quite yet embraced the way the world is going. And this isn’t just picking on this company or fine country… but a commentary on many employers hanging on to the old way of thinking. Newsflash: it’s going to happen, with or without you (now Bono’s getting involved, please help us).
Embrace it and win. Or ignore it and perish.
Back to la oficina de face time. I used to diligently arrive and set to work by 9:00am, as agreed. I would often work till after 7:00pm, one hour past our agreed time. Between those times (other than a lunch break and short morning break), I was pretty much working constantly. Good employee, no?
Apparently not. There were other people working till 8, 9 or even 10pm! More fool them. Turns out, I was leaving ‘early’. Another thing to mention was their longer lunch breaks and more frequent impromptu breaks and chats (and sitting down to work at 9:30+). Then there were the pointless meetings and back and forth emails and meetings about pointless meetings. Productive?
Is There a Better Way?
Well, let’s fast-forward to the week after I left. I remember getting 5 solid hours of work in and producing more than I usually got done in a week. Completely focused and on my game, with time allocated to get done what needed to be done. There were no interruptions, it was just me and the task at hand.
I was happy. My clients were happy. These clients and potential clients couldn’t see me, they didn’t know (or care) exactly where I was, if I was dressed, drinking a beer or had even brushed my teeth. The point is, the work got done and to a good standard. They only paid the costs of the project rather than all the other expenses of an employee. And I reaped the benefits of being in control of my time and work output. And our relationship and lives were all better as a result.
Old Habits Die Hard
There’s a belief that still exists, that if we can’t see you then it’s not happening. This is ridiculous and old thinking as it’s all trackable. There are metrics and plenty of software to keep on top of this if needs be. Either work’s getting done, or it isn’t. Either it’s high quality, or it’s not.
In his great book, The End of Jobs, Taylor Pearson discusses that 50% of the workforce will be remote by 2020. The trend is definitely increasing, and there won’t be much choice soon… flexibility in this way will be necessary and the norm.
Go Deep Not Wide
Another book worth checking out is Deep Work by Cal Newport. This talks about the value of deep work (funnily enough ;)), which really can’t be performed in an open office environment.
There is still something to be said for ‘serendipitous encounters’ and collaboration, but there’s a time and a place for that. Factor that in for sure if it suits your objectives (or just for fun, that’s cool too), but not throughout the work day as is the fashion with some of the big ‘progressive’ companies. The market does not value shallow work – the world does not need more people who can retweet a meme.
Strike a balance here and you’ve hit the jackpot!
The Myth of Multi
There is also this misbelief that you can multitask. Whoever you are (and whichever gender ;)), you are merely switching between tasks very quickly, and your focus is scattered. Science shows that it takes a certain amount of time to realign your concentration and this is bad news bears, despite *looking busy*. An element of control here is important, rather than people interrupting your flow all day. And of course, this is a staple diet of the 9-5 office worker.
So, Working Remotely is the Nirvana? Not Quite…
Don’t get me wrong, working in this manner can have its own pitfalls and challenges. It is by no means all sunshine and rainbows. Disciplining yourself as well as managing distractions are an integral part of working in this way too. In fact, you will require more self-discipline as there is no-one looking over your shoulder and prodding you.
You may well want to get dressed, brush your teeth… and probably best to avoid that beer. And of course, distractions can and do exist in the home or remote environment. If you have family members, pets and other goings on, these will have to be managed.
Then there’s your various social media vying for your attention. And just because you operate your own schedule, doesn’t mean that you can kick back watching Netflix all day. It gives you flexibility, for sure, but isn’t a panacea… too much freedom, as it turns out, can be mismanaged.
Co-working spaces are all the rage these days, and can offer a great middle ground, as well as various cafes that are more well catered to the digital worker.
The point is, you are free to change your environment. You can stay in the same place for consistency and routine… or mix it up for stimulation and variety. And that makes for a good worker and happy person.
A lot of this comes down to how closely you’re working with your client(s) or employer. They may well need you to check in regularly with updates, and that could be a good thing to keep you on task. But a deadline’s a deadline, so you meet those requirements and with the technology involved, there is no need to be in the same building where you can wave to the boss and appear to be sat in the chair tapping on a keyboard.
Where Does That Leave Us, and Where Does the Balance Lie?
This one will vary from person to person, from employer to entrepreneur. There’s no right or wrong or perfect balance as it all depends on what you need to get done. There will be some trial and error for all concerned. But whichever way you look at it, the old way is on its way out, technology can be used and leveraged for us to obtain better results as well as that elusive work-life balance we’ve all been chasing.
The key, as ever, is finding what works for you. And in addition what works for your employer, clients and colleagues. We’re living in an amazing time where these options are now on the table. There’s a learning curve for sure, but the potential exists to do amazing work and lead a joyful and fulfilling life.
Let’s embrace the future, where we are rewarded for efficiency and results, not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ fixed schedule. That had its day and served its purpose, but it’s now time for our next stage of evolution. Time to enjoy it!
Adam is a Madrid based freelance copywriter, specialising in creating spice-filled words for adventurous brands worldwide. He has spent the last few years treading his own path, navigating the murky waters of the remote and freelance lifestyle. You can find out more about him and his work over at http://fortressfree.com!