A Personal Story About Flexibility

This is quite long, so here is the TL:DR (too long; didn’t read) version:

I love the idea of workplace flexibility, I just wish everyone had the same definition of it as me. In that way, the team would work the same way / similar hours, and I don’t have to have any uncomfortable (for me) conversations about what work means and how it should be organized.

I probably need to get over myself, my world view, and stop using “well, in my day…” so much. Millennials don’t care.

On my first day at my current company, I thought I would arrive early. I got to the office around 0800; and I was the last one of the team there. Oh. OK! That’s how things work ‘round here.

The next day, I was there at 0730; and so began my contextual understanding of the workplace. We had team mates in Europe, we worked an early morning “European” shift. We worked long hours.

My first years I was working 50+ hour weeks as a standard. Then I had kids.


I reflected, and I refocused. I got into a much higher tempo workflow – I needed to be successful for others now, I needed to be more effective, and to work fewer hours. I did it, I think.

But the context had been set. I came to the office every day. I want(ed) people to understand that I WORK HARD! That was my Canadian worldview (my first job in Canada I worked insane hours, because everyone around me did.)

Now, I need workplace flexibility to support my childcare needs. I sometimes leave at 3 to meet the kids off the school bus. Recently I sat through a 2.5 hour drumming concert at their school – a privilege of parenthood.

sports day!

But when I leave the office I tell everyone – “I will be back online of 30 minutes.” This is partly factual information, and partly political – it is a casual shout-out that:


This is a long set up to talk about flexibility. One of the core topics of feedback from colleagues (we use the pulse survey tool OfficeVibe) is along the lines of:

“I wish my manager would understand that I need more flexibility in my workflows by working at home / having the odd day off when it is quiet. Other teams seem to be able to, why can’t I?”

If that plea was from someone in my team, my honest starting point would be:

“Great, I love workplace flexibility, I just hope you have the same definition of it as me! Then, this will be easy to accommodate…”

It’s a tough one. There is a workplace standard. I joined to tales of people working 100 hour weeks as a badge of pride. I talked to lots of people (men) who had stay at home partners looking after the kids full-time; many people who had family relationships where being away from family for long periods of the day / month was the norm.

Today, not so much. And I haven’t even mentioned those pesky Millennials, with all their “work needs to work around my preferences and lifestyle choices, and not the other way around” malarkey.

When I see someone stroll in at 0930 to start their work day, I admit I experience a tiny jolt of irritability. I consciously slough it off:

“Anthony! They work hard, they do the work, they work the hours, they are doing it their way! Shut it!” The next day, there it is again, poking me in the ribs.

I need to let it go (on the assertion that I do understand that they work hard, they do the work, they work the hours, they are doing it their way etc. etc.) But it is not easy. In my day…things were different.

So, what’s going on?

I wonder if there are other managers like me, who want to do the right thing, but struggle with their own context, with their own back story.

It’s maybe time to have an honest conversation with our teams about realistic, co-created workplace expectations. And to listen to other ways of operating, to new solutions.

We have the technology, we have the capacity. Do we have the gumption to challenge our own assumptions and live with new outcomes?

I hope so.

←This Much We Know.→

One thought on “A Personal Story About Flexibility

  1. This made me LOL. So much truth in it. I also find myself often leaving the office and shouting – be back online in 30 to make sure people know I am not slacking.

    I also quietly judge people who show up at 930 or are not at the office all day – yet I so desire the flexibility to work anywhere at any time, knowing that I always get my sh*t done. I just don’t often give myself the permission to do so as I don’t want to be “judged” as a slacker but maybe I’m the only one who is actually judging me ; )

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