CIOs Decide: Is Flexibility "Naïve" or a Reality That Can’t Be Ignored?

Business leaders, whether they know it or not, are making important strategic decisions about workplace flexibility that will affect their ability to compete and thrive in the future.  And in my opinion, a number of them are not making the right choice.  Here’s what happened during a speech I gave recently to a group of CIOs…

While the majority of leaders in the room were genuinely interested in about how to develop an innovative flexibility strategy, one person raised his hand and said, "Come on, this is naïve.  Maybe flexibility will work someday when I can have monitors in everyone’s home so I know they are working.  Plus, I like everyone in the office at the same time.  I just don’t think you can get the job done as well any other way. You are talking about something that’s going to work for maybe 5% of my employees.  The rest just can’t be trusted to do their job."  I could see a few heads nodding in support. 

As I thought about how to respond, another CIO raised her hand and said, "You know, I understand your concern about people abusing flexibility and the work not getting done; however, I will tell you that I have a son in college, and he lives his life completely differently than I did at his age.  Everything is virtual.  He has great "friends" in other countries that he’s never met before.  I do think we need to recognize this reality and begin adapting our organizations accordingly."  I also saw a number of heads nodding in support.of her observation. 

There it was, as plain as day: flexibility was either "naïve," or it was a reality that couldn’t be ignored.  I felt as if I were watching the broader cultural struggle between "the way we’ve always done things," and "the way we need to start doing things" play out in real time. 

Which CIOs are positioning their organizations to adapt and grow in the future?  In case you missed the video "Shift Happens" (which I mentioned in an earlier blog) a report on the future of work by the UK-based management think tank Chartered Management Institute makes the answer pretty clear.  And it’s not the group who think strategic workplace flexibility is naïve.  

The report is titled, "Management Futures—The World in 2018," and urges businesses to prepare for 16 "surprise scenarios that could change their future," that include (synopsis from article):

• "An exodus from the traditional workplace caused partly by environmental pressure to reduce the carbon footprint or commuting and partly by demographic pressures of an aging population…leading to a blurring of the boundaries between family and career,"

• "A proliferation of ‘virtual’ companies, often small community-based enterprises without conventional business premises…(they) would have to compete for employees, who will become more footloose and less inclined to work for an organization that does not allow individuals to tailor the working day to meet their personal requirements.." 

What do you believe?  Is greater flexibility in how, where, and when the work is done and resources managed "naïve?"  Or is it a reality can’t be ignored?  

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