Can Changing Workplace Conditions Affect Corporate Culture?

By: Debbie Nicol

 A current hot topic touted by many in the Human Resources and Organization Development fields today is one of flexi-hours and/or remote working conditions. I define these to be:

  • Flexi-hours

An agreed number of hours that is the responsibility of the employee, yet may be distributed as the employee chooses, within a flexible employer-defined range

  • Remote Working Conditions

Producing work results from an area other than an agreed base, resulting in an increased possibility of flexi-hours for the employee

Whilst these concepts have successfully been adopted by other countries, I’m unaware of major success with it here across the GCC region.

Could Flexi-Hours and Remote Work be adopted here?

Many present-day corporate environmental elements impact flexi-hours and remote working conditions. For example, the nature of the business, the trust level of the leader, the discipline of the individual, the needs of the customer, the implications of missed deadlines, the necessity of face to face interaction and where in the business cycle a particular project currently exists, to name a few.

Let’s look at each separately:

Nature of the business

Some businesses operate in industries that do not lend themselves to ‘flexibility’ and are unable to function with employees working flexi-hours or off-site. Take an oil and gas company that has a critical shutdown, one that requires immediate action and if not, consequences could be extremely costly.  Another may be the beauty industry that requires physical contact between beautician and customer. Or, how could a pool lifeguard do his or her job effectively if deciding his own hours out of sync with those of swimmers.

Trust level of the leader

Some businesses are lead by individuals whose success is grounded in rigid managerial control, feeling the need for constant supervision, personal contact and instant access to team members.  This type of individual may find it extremely difficult to trust, because the world they live in revolves around ‘seeing is believing’.  The only indication of productivity is through an ‘attendance-based’ lens, operating and achieving results from a top-down influence.  This low trust level would not align to an environment of empowered employees.

Discipline of the individual

Common to both concepts is freedom of choice, predominantly that of the employee.   Its success depends on a system that encourages and rewards productivity and deliverables rather than one that rewards attendance and loyalty.  These deliverable-based systems provide for differences in a person’s working style, family responsibilities, out-of-work commitments, balance of life and tailored and customized workplace solutions, and may see the person working at odd hours, in unusual locations with unique and customized freedom.

….and could there be one more element not considered in this list, that being the impact of the country’s heritage and culture.

A Region’s or Country’s Culture

One should never take a business forward to a new condition or state without looking back to revisit the past.  Some of the past must be left in the past when it no longer contributes, whereas other practices should be taken into the future. Historically, using the UAE for an example, the environment’s operating system (the  life that was a society ‘work’ on a basis of daily desert survival) depended on wise leadership in a hierarchical pyramid, taking hard calls often with limited information and time; their decisions would ultimately serve to protect all.

Why is it then that flexi-hours and remote working are taking a little more time to gain ground in this part of the world?

History leaves her mark indeed and variations of both concepts (flexi-time and remote work) will become embedded into our workplaces where they are applicable. However, it will take time and for good reason.  One can’t simply cut and paste workplace practices without considering the impact of the past upon the possibility of the future.  Change does take time and effort and will often bring pain. Flexi hours and remote work conditions will be a part of our corporate world when the landscape is good and ready for it.

Debbie Nicol, Managing Director of ‘business en motion’, moves businesses and leaders ahead through change

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