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Don't let WFH become WTF next year

Flexible work is a thing. It was one of the fruits of Covid-19 and it's not going to go away anytime soon. But it might be a poisoned fruit with two very different consequences that no one ever saw coming, both of which could leave a very bad taste in your mouth and a very upset stomach - they might even be fatal to your career.
Lucia Mabasa
Lucia Mabasa

The first of these is the ongoing battle of working from home.

We read all the time of CEOs and business owners wanting to get their staff back to the office; Elon Musk even tried to do that at Twitter too (along with his other corporate missteps) – but at the same time, it’s a huge bargaining chip.

High value scarce skill hires hold out for the privilege of working from home and choosing which hours are in the office in person and which are remote - and CHROs are happy to use the offer as a carrot to sweeten the deal.

It is a two- edged sword. Working from home still requires real boundaries, which many of us have struggled to get right in the two-and-a-half years that we have been fiddling with the concept.

It needs proper negotiation and this means discussing with your principal not just when you’ll be at the office but when you’ll be available remotely. Working from home should not be any different from working from the office – for either the employee or the employer – but that’s where things invariably get lost in translation.

I’ve seen too many instances this year where the CEO will be sitting in a board meeting and reach for their phone to phone an employee to get them to answer a pertinent question only for that person to either refuse to take the call or cut their boss short because they are watching their kids do ballet or play soccer.

If you wouldn’t behave like that in the office – skive off to be with your kids – then you shouldn’t be doing that because of WFH, because then it becomes WTF? But it also cuts both ways; you shouldn’t have to take calls after hours and over weekends either – unless that’s the nature of your job because of your seniority in the company. If that is the case, suck it up, you’re getting paid for it.

People with scarce skills have to be very careful in this brand new normal, brave new world that we live in. Loyalty is important. If it becomes all about you, don’t be surprised when the company that is hiring you, just as quickly looks elsewhere for those same scarce skills. The beauty of WFH is that home can be anywhere in the world, literally, as long as there is a decent fibre link for high speed connectivity. Just like call centres were outsourced to Ireland and then India, you might find your job being filled from the global talent pool too.

The second rotten fruit of the COVID 19 harvest for scarce skill professionals could well turn out to be the decision to begin actively re-recruiting retired experienced professionals for short term contracts. We saw this a lot with State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) needing urgent interventions without having to deal with any issues of extended tenure once the work was done.

This is tailor made for the retirees because none of them are looking for long time positions – because they are already retired. But it does add another nuance to the whole argument of being paid on output rather than the traditional package which includes being in the office.

If there is no need to show the old loyalty to staff who come to work 21 days a month with two day weekends, but rather move to output and outcomes based remuneration irrespective of where it is sourced or who it is provided for, you will discover that the work/life balance debate has just got very complicated all of a sudden.

It’s something, to be honest, that not too many scarce skill workers saw coming. They thought they held all the cards, so they called the shots. In some cases, the tail started to wag the dog. Now the dog’s wagging the tail again, with C-Suite executives finding those skills wherever and however for how long the job needs – even if the provider is retired and living their best life in Hermanus.

To keep the gig, you’ve got to be always on, always available and that’s going to mean putting the kids on mute, ordering them an Uber after the match and getting yourself to that board meeting – if you don’t want to be outsourced by a retirement village.

I think the key to next year is going to be not so much work/life balance, but more work/life integration – in a way that suits both parties. What you can have, that the old timer might not have, is a better attitude. A lot of the retirees come to the party with a “When-we” attitude always harking back to their past, which takes a bit of managing by executives who might even feel a little threatened or at least exasperated by it. That could be your competitive advantage – if you’ve both got the same skillset. In the end, everything might have changed in the new normal, but working with decent reasonable people who deliver will always trump working with people with attitude.

Make that your new year’s resolution – and manifest it!

25 Nov 2022 13:06