Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

Towards Recognition of Individual Differences and a Less Standardized Work World

“But not everyone can work this way!” is the most common, instinctive response I hear when talking about telework (especially in a full-time capacity) or results-only-work-environment (ROWE). Through everyday conversations I learn about instances where a full-time teleworker had a difficult time working this way because the presence of a spouse or child at home was distracting. In such a case, I point out that teleworkers need to establish ground rules before attempting to work from home. Moreover, one can still keep daycare arrangements, enlist the services of a sitter, or work at a co-working facility if one is available. On the other hand, I’ve experienced working with coworkers who’ve constantly distracted me with non-work related issues as well (e.g., peppering me with questions about whether or not I want to have children for the umpteenth time), so working in a centralized office isn’t a definite solution to distractions. My conversation partner also pointed out that I’m just lucky to be able to function more autonomously and not need so much social support at work and that this is the reason why the benefits of telework speak to me so much. She followed up by saying that other people are not this way, but I already know that.

With regard to ROWE, a former salesperson who had worked in this capacity before (i.e., on commission) pointed out how intense the demand to constantly produce results gets and how he’d appreciate being paid for his time (along with the downtime) while on the job as well. Also, I can see why someone would want to be paid for the time spent attempting to accomplish a task even if success couldn’t ultimately be realized. As with telework, the benefits of ROWE stand out to me personally because I have a track record of finding faster, more efficient ways of accomplishing tasks. Hence, I’d feel more rewarded by a ROWE system than the standard method of assuming the necessity of an 8-hour workday.

When all the tasks I’ve been assigned to accomplish are finished, I ask for more to do anyway because I don’t like having to ride out the rest of the day, out of a sense of obligation, with nothing to do. Superiors seem to think they’re doing you a favor when they kindly respond with, “No, there’s nothing else for you to do today sweetie” and, without saying that  I may also call it a day and go home, I start thinking that I know how a prison inmate feels – restless, bored, and waiting for time to be up. At the same time, I’ve always realized that the standard system “cheapens” my labor as the larger number units of work I produce is compensated for at about the same amount as a coworker who produces fewer units of work in the same amount of time. Normally, fast workers would go along with this arrangement anyway in order to climb the hierarchical career ladder within the organization, but it looks like this is becoming less of a goal than it once was.

Yes, I understand that not everyone is like me. However, there are many, many jobs out there that aren’t compatible with telework or ROWE. So, I expect that there will always be room for people who can’t or don’t want to work under those conditions. People who protest “Not everyone can work this way!” should also remember that a large number of people don’t want to commute and work 8-to-5 or 9-to-5 either. Just because the vast majority have been forced to work this way for so long doesn’t mean that this is a great arrangement for everyone.

For some reason, whether through conversations with people I know or Internet surfing, I find that a lot of people are under the impression that work-life innovation advocates are somehow trying to get everyone to work this way or that way but it just isn’t the case. Such a goal would not even be realistic. This isn’t similar to a political movement that would have widespread application and bind everyone to it. Rather, this is about individualism and, in particular, helping others understand how to harness this knowledge about individual differences in order to boost the productivity of a society. This is about freedom and promoting more work situation choices. With enough choices, everyone will be able to find a suitable work situation. So, please don’t misunderstand. This isn’t about finding an alternative way to work and then subjecting everyone to it. I never envisioned that we would all want the same things. As a hardcore individualist, I have no problem if someone else, out of personal preference, works 9-to-5 at a centralized office while I telework under a ROWE even if we’re performing the same tasks. I just ask everyone to consider honoring individual differences by supporting choices.

3 responses to “Towards Recognition of Individual Differences and a Less Standardized Work World

  1. Frederick Pilot February 16, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    “People who protest “Not everyone can work this way!” should also remember that a large number of people don’t want to commute and work 8-to-5 or 9-to-5 either. Just because the vast majority have been forced to work this way for so long doesn’t mean that this is a great arrangement for everyone.”

    Indeed. Nor is all knowledge work the same.

  2. Steve Riddle February 18, 2013 at 5:30 am

    Great points, Lynn. It is always about choice and options. My only concern with the take-up of teleworking is that when targets are established to hit a certain figure i.e. ‘X’ number of employees working in a teleworking role by ‘X’ date, we are forcing the issue a little too far the other way. Teleworking is about individual choice, for specific roles in a supported business culture.

    • Lynn Patra February 18, 2013 at 8:04 am

      Thanks for commenting Steve. That’s a great point and I absolutely agree. Unless the target figures are backed up by data indicating a comparable demand for teleworking options from people (whereupon this is an effort to meet needs) then it will be perceived as forcing the issue.

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