What is “Office Freedom”?

By on April 3, 2013

Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you!

                 ……Jean-Paul Satre

Most professional work environments of today, both traditional and non traditional are coming under significant pressure to determine what employees really value as freedom – and how to go about it – specifically when employee motivations themselves are fast changing. More today than ever, there is definitely increased awareness and more longing for freedom at office/ workplace situations by more employees – given the new age social media triggered consciousness. While quite many organisations and managers are positively inclined to support the same, the issue about not having a handle as to what exactly this ‘office freedom’ is, and the lack of clear articulation of the same, has led different organizations to go experimenting this down the lane, in different ways – with some providing disastrous results and most not even coming close to metrics that would be suggestive of ‘office freedom’ and workplace or individual productivity enhancements. Many old and new age organisations thus indeed are working dynamically to change with times, and still find it complicating to say the least. An overview of such efforts is suggestive of employees finding new gigs, to be getting away from boss (for some time at least in the day), to finding more space and time for oneself and / or to be able to do multi, more entrepreneurial stuff etc are the shades of behaviours associated with this evanescent quest.

The concept of office freedom is not a new one. Significant work on this subject has been going on since long. Past learning’s have shown that office freedom associated motivations are varied and many – and the triggers for such motivation are complex and possibly fleeting, often bordering on the question ‘of whether triggers are part of an influence set or directly influencing by themselves? Whether they are important for few or for many? And, above all whether it is practical to deploy or is it just another activity for activity sake? In the process there is that seeming uncertainty on whether ‘office freedom’ is all about more empowerment, more engagement, more free hours, more flexi hours, less(er) working hours, multi project opportunities, lesser reviews, better/ no appraisal process, more cubicle spaces, larger desks, etc. Clearly there is no single answer, and there possibly is an overlap of one or more of the above as is typically suggested by annual Gallup Polls that most large organizations conduct to learn more. Accordingly HR managers and senior leaders across the globe are trying to get a better grip on this and for finding that win-win algorithms to evolve from their own deep-rooted and traditional corporate cultures.

So if the answer lies in evolving from traditional cultures and eliminating/ minimising the conflict brought with new age thinking, then it is firstly imperative to understand how these traditional cultures have evolved, than take a stab via quick-n-easy ‘laissez faire’ style interventions, while the real underlying issues continue to stay unaddressed. Most traditional models have had their core principles centered on task management, time control, promotions (for the select few), increased responsibility and group think. On the contrary, non traditional models (inspired by gen Y) behaviours is challenging the same and leaning to the very opposite. To elaborate:

  1. Promotion as a way of reward (in traditionally successful organizations) is giving way to ‘freedom as reward’. This old principle rewards results and competency with promotions. When competency saturates and / or augmented results have not come for various external reasons, there is a danger of living with a structure of ‘favoured few’ and motivations to get away from being chained to same old work and work place. Rare are the few who seek freedom or leave a company when they get promoted, as is seen in some non traditional work environments – where promotion is not the primary form of reward. Freedom as the end goal is the reward in itself. Promotion here is viewed more as responsibility to both the business and the people one leads and possibly having less time for self. And so if you are free and don’t need much more, opportunities to explore other passions through the benefit of managing one’s own schedule lead to greater excellence, productivity and prosperity.
  2. Face time (9-to-5) work cultures are seen to be limiting in assessing individual contributions, and not being able to differentiate performing and underperforming employees. Ergo some managers getaway with minimal or no effort (and more so at senior levels who seemingly abdicate more under the garb of delegation and micro management). Unlike non-traditional work environments where employees are given more power through a less structured environment than ‘face time’. Here value is measured by quality work and impact and those who aren’t pulling their weight become obvious. Yahoo Chief (Marissa Mayer’s) decision to ask employees to work out of the office is indeed testimony to recognize, reward and show case such ‘needed effectiveness’ throughout the organization – worth tracking this intervention…as there is a possibility to have employees ask what can I do better, what can I make happen quicker and/ or what specific impacts can I make to my organization?
  3. Groupthink saps energies and excitements vs. down the line actions from inter dependent leadership teams. Group think has been seen to be constraining organisations to think creatively, out of the box and experience failure and criticism. Here emotional like minded breeds seek cozy comfort in conformity and have contagious effects across the organization, as coterie based power centres emerge. Viewpoints, critical decisions, new ideas all get missed all for reasons of being in close quarters with group think. “I will do’ this champions never get made here and as a result significant time and effort is lost. The bug of office boredom sets in for many across, resulting in a shrill cry for office freedom from within.

In sum, the above are just few of the many typical problems that occur in organizations. Office freedom may or may not be the solution for everything. But is a strong value for employees when it can make employees feel privileged at their office desks and/ or inside their mind platforms – pointing very much to the need for creating strong purpose(s). When purpose is well defined, freedom and responsibility seem to work together even better. Easier said than done and demands organization leaders to have a deep concern and dedication towards employee happiness and success. The answer is not in just feng shui style interventions, but in defining and communication ‘purpose’ based rights, roles and responsibilities. And above all to believe in employees who joined companies with a belief to succeed, to make their careers and not just to fade away working from homes or away from desk in the garb of office freedom or hiding from work. Certainly worth tracking ahead, Marissa Mayer’s recent initiative of getting employees back to office for freedom. Something there to learn from, for sure …


About Subba Rao NV

Subbarao is an entrepreneur, management professional and a hands-on business leader with +20 years exp in consumer goods, tele-communications, wireless applications/ solutions and retail sectors, where he has handled large teams and multi unit businesses. Earlier he held VP- Sales & Marketing, COO/ CEO/ Apex positions at TATA Docomo, Bharti Airtel, Tanla Solutions and Conagra Foods (India). Having started at P&G as a management trainee, he has worked and led over 25 brands. Over the years he has lived and worked in different geographies including US, Japan and Vietnam, while holding p&l and growth responsibilities for market & value share leadership. In 2012 Co-founded Reboot Systems (India), a refurbished computers business - set up the brand, business and retail/ franchisee store model. After successfully exiting same (03/2015), is working to launch and establish his next start up - www.myfirstbigjob.com ( a platform based integrated 'jobs-skills one stop portal - presently in development stage'), to find a way out of skill-gap issues and to address the problems of skill-divide. Subbarao is also a member of Hyderabad Angels and a charter member of TIE and in his spare time runs a blog called best matters. [ www.cocreate.subbaraonv.com/ email: subba@subbaraonv.com ]

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