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The real future of work? Empathy and trust


March 2, 2020

When I co-founded Hoxby, nearly five years ago now, I had already embraced the idea that flexible working was the future of work. While it feels as though the world is catching up with that idea, at least in part, I’m still surprised by the reluctance of businesses to see the benefits of true flexibility.

Our ethos at Hoxby is that of #workstyle – every person in our freelance community can choose when and how they work. To some organisations we speak with, the very idea of working in this way seems terrifying. And that’s because it means showing their employees more empathy and trust than they are truly comfortable with.

Employees want flexible working

For many businesses looking at how to improve staff morale, one of the first things they turn to is flexible working. This is no surprise. The demand for flexibility at work has been growing steadily over the past few years. A global study published back in 2018 found that 51% of employees wish their company offered more flexible work options, while here in the UK research shows that 81% of employees feel flexible working makes a job more attractive to them.

The problem I see is that businesses aren’t willing to embrace the true meaning of flexibility.

Large organisations embrace a fixed regime of regimented hours and a single office space because it gives them control over their workforce. Even when they allow employees to work from home on Wednesdays, leave early on a Friday, or work a four-day week, they’re not offering true flexibility. Instead, they’re merely extending the leash only as far as they feel comfortable.

But this is only driving people away. Just this month, the Financial Times reported that in the UK the number of people required to fill out a tax return has hit a record high. A fact that analysts have attributed to an increase in self-employment. People are taking the matter of work-life balance into their own hands.

The future of work demands a new way of thinking

For people to feel truly motivated by their employer, they need empathy and understanding of their circumstances. They might want to work around their kids’ school hours, because (surprise!) they want to spend time with them. Or perhaps they need the option of remote working because their elderly parent needs their care. Or maybe they just want to be able to go to the doctor’s, or to the post office, without feeling like Big Brother is watching them.

Employers need to get out of the mindset where they think employees must be dedicated to their work, to the detriment of everything else.

That means truly empathising with the person behind the employee and the richness and complexity of their lives outside of work. Failure to do so will result in them moving on to a company that cares more or following the growing trend towards self-employment.

Anyone who has led a team, line-managed a direct report, or simply been part of a working group, knows it’s more productive and certainly more enjoyable to work with highly motivated and enthusiastic individuals.

I know when everything in my life is well-balanced I am able to truly enjoy what I do, uninhibited by guilt or any other barrier that may get in the way of the pleasure of using my brain. From seeing the outstanding work and dedication I’m surrounded by every day at Hoxby, I know that feeling is a shared one – motivation and enthusiasm will come when you give people your empathy and trust.

Are you ready for the future of work?

Rapid progress in technology and the prevalence of WiFi mean we have reached a tipping point where remote working, remote teams, and truly flexible working are not just possible, they make business sense. The future of work is flexible, and the only way to embrace that flexibility is to trust those who work with you and to be genuinely empathetic about their circumstances.

That’s what we do at Hoxby. We’ve learned over the last five years how to do it right. And we help other businesses to do it too, in a way that’s right for them. At Hoxby, remote working is a way of life. In our freelance community, we rarely meet in person. Yet, with the help of technology, our teams are able to work together seamlessly to create the very highest quality of work. They are motivated by the freedom to deliver on their terms and we trust them to do that.

But you don’t need to create a community of Hoxbies to be fit for the future of work. Our vision is that, in the new world, businesses, clients and employers will simply care about finding the best person for the job. Regardless of when and how they choose to work.

Trust and empathy will be cornerstones of this new working world, and operating in remote teams will be commonplace. Presenteeism will be a thing of the past. We will respect each other’s lives, be it children, hobbies, travel, health, caring responsibilities, or simply personal preferences. And once we get there, we’ll wonder why on earth it took us so long.

What would you like to do?

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