The new era of flexible working
Should we source our project management experts through permanent resourcing or from the contract market?
This isn’t a question about permanent/contractor supply balancing to meet demand spikes; it's a smarter question (from a smart client): how will talented projects people want to work in the future and how can we compete to attract them?
Traditionally, work has been seen as “a place I go to”, and not as a comfortable or flexible environment, with the challenges of email, fixed processes and rigid procedures, unwelcome seating plans, office hierarchies and politics.
We want it to be much more than that for everyone involved at Pelicam. We want our team saying: “There is a purpose to my association with Pelicam, what I do contributes to our vision. I am needed, wanted and what I do is important to me”.
So… create a stage where people can perform (and enjoy it!)
We all recognise the need to maintain an inner balance of work, focused activity and spare time. But, unfortunately, we’re not all good at listening to our body’s signals. We are all busy people with a range interests (a love of projects being one), but inevitably we have grown organically. Our top talent does not always grow on local trees, and as a consequence, we have practitioners distributed widely across the UK.
Cloud-based solutions have been around for a while (we were early adopters with Salesforce), but choose carefully and you can introduce game changers to significantly improve the way your whole organisation operates. I’m not talking about the unified communications solutions here (which of course are needed to support any distributed environment), I’m talking about Confluence. This team collaboration software allows us to share, build, create, record, plan, do, and measure. Travelling has reduced significantly whilst our engagement levels have increased, with more empathy and support, discussion and collaboration.
We have 1,755 offices in the UK courtesy of Costa and the like. There is also a “Pelicam space” in the countryside between Chesham and Berkhamsted. It has one big table. There are no individual desks. People just rock up and sit where they want. Everyone has a laptop - desktops are stacked in the corner, no longer used.
People are measured and rewarded on output. Nobody looks at the clock and 9 to 5 is not required. We don’t count hours. People are encouraged to work where and when they want, fitting in with all the other things that go on in their lives. Everyone has control over his or her work-life balance.
We’ve adopted our own style of working: we focus on the client and talk in a language they understand - iterative, small and quick is good.
- We deliver outputs quickly and test frequently; we are adaptive and work closely with relevant experts on a daily basis
- We work best when we organise ourselves; we reflect on how to become more effective and adjust accordingly. Note the similarities to many agile practices.
- We are all self-motivated and self-managed. Nobody directs us.
- We support and advise (helpfully!).
- We jointly agree objectives and it is left up to each individual to determine the solution and how to deliver it. People know they are part of a team and can call on others for help and support.
- We meet our targets as a team – victory is not individual it’s a company win.
Our most creative ideas arise in places where we meet (at a venue or virtually). Being together at the same venue does allow us to share common thought and gain consistency in our “tone of voice”.
When asked to describe our people, I respond: “They ask questions and they listen; they are genuine and honest; they are likeable; they know who they really are and how they really feel; they are confident, open-minded, approachable and interesting; they don’t unnecessarily seek attention; they are friendly, considerate and professional, communicating in a confident and concise manner; they are consistent and reliable; they smile (lots) and have fun”.
Getting familiar with flexible working
It takes time to adopt new ways of working. For us, fighting the urge to send an email rather than log into collaboration tool was a challenge, but now that we have, my internal email has reduced by 75% and I don’t have to search emails to find relevant information anymore, saving me at least 30 minutes per day.
We all need to communicate our goals and expectations clearly and precisely. Working towards common goals, we have quarterly target agreements with monthly reviews and weekly “round ups”.
Clearly, this culture is based on factors such as respect, trust and consideration. We often hear that it needs to be “created” - a task for “management”. But it’s not synthetic; it is the core of our beliefs.
People think differently about the business as a consequence. Money is important, but not the driving force. The company “vision” is understood and people creatively strive to reach it. They are self-motivated and like the thrill of delivering, adding value measured on results.
Is this a new era?
There are a growing number of people that want to work this way. Most UK universities and schools are already pushing their students to become more self-driven, community-led and supportive. Students and employees will act with confidence in their capability and prefer performance related compensation models to an hourly rate. There will inevitably be less loyalty towards (some) employers. This may be deserved. Clearly job security and pension provisions are no longer factors to encourage loyalty. People will move around, picking the best jobs at the time (often on a project by project basis) and in the most appropriate “vehicle” at the time. To many this will mean setting up as a sole trader or limited company.
To enable us to attract and retain the best talent, we all need to recognise their value expectations and act accordingly.
- Leaders must establish a sustainable collaboration culture across the company.
- The vision, supporting objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) need to be defined by the team.
- Build an environment where support/help/sharing is at the heart of the culture and you can trust the team to deliver.
- Ensure continuous improvement by measuring performance against KPI targets, supporting delivery, and rewarding success.
- Select the appropriate communication solutions, with security and adaptability at the centre of your considerations.
- As we work together, we express how we're doing and what's in our way, so that our concerns can be addressed as a team, and more gets done.
- We focus on a few important things at a time, working well together to deliver sooner.
- We approach challenges creatively, and our solutions are specific to our clients.
- As we work together, sharing successes and failures, we come to respect each other and to help each other become worthy of respect.
- Because we have significant control over our own destiny, we are more committed to success.
- We work as a team and are supported. This gives us the courage to undertake greater challenges.
Personal note from Peter Mayer: This article is clearly focused on the positive-side of working flexible at Pelicam - but we’re not perfect! I’m hoping that by exposing our work-style, I can get feedback from all your experiences and gain some valuable insights into how we can improve further.