Satellite Strategies, Part 2: Progressive Ideas On The Future Of The Workplace

Many companies have noticed that keeping workers in the professional services workforce (particularly women) is becoming even more of a challenge as of late. Besides being expected to put in long hours away from home and family, there are brutal expenses that may be preventing modern talent from sticking with their careers. According to an article in Fortune, childcare now costs more than rent in some areas of our country! Factor in an evolving career culture that promotes work/life balance, and you might end up learning the hard way if you’re not forward-thinking about managing your employees, both male and female.

The fact of the matter is, if you run or manage a modern company, you’ll want your staff to be focused, productive, and glad to be working for you. This means modernizing your approach as an employer through understanding the needs of your employees inside and outside of the workplace. Want to know how to keep your employees loyal and get maximum productivity out of them? Consider the following lessons from 3 progressive sources, starting with an entity you may be familiar with: The Department of Labor.

Don’t LOL at the DOL

First, this special statement: The Department of Labor (DOL) is committed to creating a Labor Department for the new American workforce and the next American century. DOL recognizes the demands of family/personal life and work are constantly competing for attention. Concerns about quality child and elder care arrangements may be a daily worry for some. Through provision of broad array of family-friendly programs, flexible options, and services benefiting their employees, DOL is committed to creating a healthy workplace that supports their employees and maximizes individual potential”.

These words came right from the DOL website! And what’s encouraging is that they’re really doing what they promised. 85% of the Department’s own employees participate in some type of flexible work schedule, called flexi time, which enables employees to vary their arrival and departure times. Flexi time also allows employees to accrue credited time for taking leave to attend to personal business…time which is transferrable from one pay period to another.

The DOL has also implemented “core hours”, which is the key to most successful workplaces of the future. To paint a picture for you, imagine that only 15 hours of the week are mandatory on-premises time. Perhaps this means an office’s core hours are Tuesday through Thursday, from 10am to 3pm. All human talent is expected to be at the workplace during these specific hours for face time, meetings, internal networking and general exchange of ideas. This leaves 25 hours each week for folks to work where they work best, on their own schedules. This flexibility is especially beneficial to the morning person, the night owl, and parents who want to have hands-on time raising their children. These workers will exhibit greater productivity, which will in turn, benefit the company!

Do Call Me Shirley

Satellite work for 25 hours a week? Successful companies couldn’t possibly implement this successfully. It’s just too futuristic to be plausible, right? Well friends, professionals have actually been doing satellite work since the early 60’s, when Stephanie Shirley started a software company of women, for women. Stephanie recruited qualified women and structured them into a home-working organization, pioneering the concept of getting women back into the workforce after a career break. Her employees flourished while adhering to flexible work schedules and job sharing, and together, they brought her company to the $3 billion level by the mid-70’s! One of their most profound accomplishments was the programming of the black box flight recorder on the supersonic concord. When you realize that this was done by a bunch of women working in their own homes with rotary telephones, pencils & paper as their support tools, and as Stephanie mentions in her TED Talk, employing the trust method, it becomes obvious that we have the tools today to recreate this paradigm on a mass scale. As a historical footnote, Stephanie’s success story may not have happened at all if she hadn’t been using the pseudonym Steve in her business development letters.

We Can’t Get Our Work Done At Work

Besides making work/life integration possible with workplace flexibility, there’s also the compelling argument that the workplace is not designed for optimal work. Jason Fried lays this out convincingly in his TED Talk, explaining that we are restricted to work “moments” in between meetings, interruptions and more meetings. When one looks back at their accomplishments, they realize “I got nothing done today. I was at work. I sat at my desk. I used my expensive computer. I used the software they told me to use. I went to these meetings I was asked to go to. I did these conference calls. I did all this stuff but I didn’t actually do anything. I just did tasks. I didn’t actually get meaningful work done.”Fried, Jason

The fact is, we need long stretches of uninterrupted time to do our best work. You might have a quick idea, but to be in deep thought about it and really consider it carefully, you need an environment in which to cultivate ideas freely. Jason suggests that, as an employer, if you feel strongly about keeping your employees at the office during work hours, their work should be treated as a phase-based event, much like sleep. The borderline-comedic delivery of his ideas may sound less-than-serious, but underneath, they are revolutionary!  He suggests the custom of “no-talk Thursdays” whereby each Thursday at the office, there be an agreed-upon 4-hour stretch of time when no one can talk to one another. He also suggests that utilizing passive methods of communication like email be embraced, since it puts the timing of answering a question in the worker’s court, rather than having to stop what you’re doing and answer the manager’s question at your desk. Such challenges to antiquated office culture can only serve to benefit the employer and the employee in tandem, and are clearly worth experimenting with.

The Future Is Now

To be forward-thinking as employers, we need to understand at the very least that satellite work and other family-friendly/female-friendly approaches to organizing our employees’ work schedules need to be implemented starting now. There’s no longer a reason for many modern workers to reside at a localized space between 9&5, Monday through Friday. With a formula that incorporates trust, progressive ideas, and a desire for both company and worker to succeed, we can work through our reservations about an evolving office environment, setting the stage for productivity and true career advancement.