Firstly let’s think about this scenario:
It’s 4pm on a Wednesday, you have finished all the tasks you had allocated for the day, no meetings are scheduled in the calendar and nothing urgent has popped into your inbox. What do you do?
A sane person would leave office — You have met your allocated goals, you have been productive and you should now feel as though you can go home guilt free to enjoy your hobbies.
However you work in the corporate world and your sane thoughts have been eaten by the facetime culture monster. So you do very little for the next few hours, staying till 6pm when it seems more appropriate to leave office.
When did this start? Well the facetime culture monster started eating your thoughts on day 1 at the office. You heard the rumours about the working hours at the firm you joined and wanted to make a good impression. You asked around about when people finished for the day and gained some vague responses.So you just waited…..and waited…….until either the office starts to empty out or a more senior employee says:
“Why are you staying so late? It’s day 1, you have no work, go home and enjoy”
and then you feel validated enough to leave.
On day 2 you come in early before the boss, seemingly impressed he says “it’s nice to have an early bird in the team” and you feel good about yourself, you think I have cracked these hours and therefore these are the hours I shall work.
Over the next few weeks, the facetime culture monster keeps re-appearing in the form of comments by colleagues:
“Suzy leaving early to go to her third ‘dentist’ appointment of the month”
“I have a 1 hour commute but Jack’s got a ‘flexible working arrangement’ because he lives far away from the office”
These comments seem unnecessarily harsh especially considering they do not know what is going on in each of these individuals lives.
Time goes on and although in the beginning you were ok with the hours when you were new to the team, eager to impress with so much to learn, you are now drained. A year and a half on you are still eager to impress but you have gained much more experience. You know when you are productive, you have good and bad days, you know the team and what works for you. You are tired and know the hours aren’t working anymore, so you adjust them to start a little later and leave a little earlier. This works better for you mentally, you have more time to release tension whether it be at the gym, cooking or dancing. However those around you see it a little differently. It looks like slacking. On paper you are more productive than you ever were before. Yet the boss is holding your facetime at a higher priority than your deliverables. How do we fix this?
How do we fix this?
Firstly we need to understand what causes the culture before we can think how to fix it. I personally think it is partly generational. When your boss or bosses boss was an associate or an analyst, there was very little research on productivity or mental wellbeing, remote working wasn’t a thing and you didn’t have email, github, jiras or slack to track productivity. Facetime was just an easy metric to see how dedicated your team member was to the firm.
However smooth a metric it was to use, it is obviously inefficient but easy to fall back on. I am guilty of it too. When I see a colleague who is not pulling their weight or achieving their full potential, i sometimes find myself becoming lazy and thinking along these lines:
“No wonder they are late handing in their work or are not progressing in their learning quickly enough because they are leaving at 5pm and not spending enough time working on it. How can they say they are behind and not put the effort in?”
However this is rarely true. The employee could be leaving at 5pm because they:
- Are feeling ill
- Have a gym class to go to and will log in later to do more research.
- Don’t have the right tools to do the job.
- They aren’t getting the help they need.
I think many managers find facetime a metric which is easy to fall back on. One way to fix this and create cultural change is to question why they are using this. This can be hard because facetime is often an unspoken thought. I think many times managers don’t realise they are using this to judge employees and it is an unconscious and easy bias to make. If we question this, it will enable managers to think more pro-actively towards fixing the culture. I also believe more generally as we focus more on emotional intelligence in leadership, this will also help fix the facetime culture.
On the most part I believe it is down to the individual manager or a certain group of individuals. In most major corporate companies they boast about their flexible working culture and how senior management wants employees to be as productive as possible. If senior management want a culture change and millennials (including me) already want the needle to change where we need to fix the culture is within middle management.
I think a straightforward conversation with our manager might not be enough to fix it. It needs to be a team or department wide conversation. We need to make each other aware of our individual needs and priorities. Generally we have become good at thinking about parents in the workplace. We are very accepting if employees need to work from home because they do not have childcare for the day. Why can’t we do the same for all employees ? This would help increase happiness in the workplace, avoid burnout and increase productivity. We should be able to share our other priorities in life for example:
- I want to work a weekend this month and take the two days back during one week as my long distance girlfriend is coming to town and I would like to spend time with her.
- I want to finish at 3pm on Monday and Wednesday as I am training for a marathon and this would help my training.
- I would like to work 12pm-9pm as I am a night owl and prefer working these hours.
Start ups and remote working have definitely kickstarted this cultural change enabling employees to do what works for them. Most major corporation has flexible working arrangements to compete with start-ups. However the shock-waves haven’t hit most middle management into making a change. I believe by being able to share your story about what works best for you with the wider team and holding your manager accountable will also help move us in the right direction and set off the shock-waves. So I would like to share my ideal working scenario:
I start work at 8am and finish at 4pm. I know my productivity slumps after 4pm and very little is achieved after this time. I would love on most days to be able to work these hours, head to my gym class, have dinner/relax and have the potential to check and handle anything urgent in the evening.
What is your ideal working situation? Have you faced the facetime culture curse, what do you think caused it and how did you fix it?