At Microsoft Finland, we’ve been teleworking for a few years already using our so-called “being present” working model, which means that goals guide our work and it doesn’t matter where or when we work. Many people, actually more people than the capacity of the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, have visited our Meeting Point in Keilaranta, Espoo, to find out, how we use modern technology, new spaces, and management to achieve challenging goals, yet at the same time keep job satisfaction high. During this inspiring and compelling journey we’ve had to think over the very fundamentals of work.
Does working at a physical workspace bring more value to the employer than working at home? Location doesn’t really play a significant role in many tasks regarding information work. If the work tasks require concentration, employees can work in spaces, where they choose to be interrupted themselves. This is not the case in a traditional working space. Different tasks require different kind of interaction, as Sarah Caldicott, relative to Thomas Edison, argues in her book Midnight Lunch; the Meeting Point at Microsoft Finland is mentioned as one example in the book. Real-time face-to-face interaction is only needed in very rare occasions. Fitting people in the same space at the same time is not always the most efficient way to increase understanding, exchange information or make decisions. Our experiences have been very positive, when we’ve given our professionals the opportunity to decide themselves where and when they want to work.
Is the workload divided evenly during a year, a week or a day nowadays? Without exception there are always both slower and heated periods in all working roles. Deadlines will force us to walk the extra mile. These bursts are different depending on the function and role, as Mika Pantzar and Ilkka Halava very well point out in their book Rytmitalous (Rhythm Economy). Nevertheless, it is astonishing, how in most cases the working day still is framed the same way for everyone: working time is fixed and slower periods are overly and hectic periods under resourced. If the employee collects working hours and takes a day off once in a while, that is considered as laziness and inflexibility. If the employer has the right to oblige you to work longer hours at the workplace, shouldn’t the employee be able to go to the gym during the morning traffic jam without feeling guilty? Wouldn’t it be tempting for the employer to pay for employee’s 100 % inspired, efficient and motivated work?
Would it be possible to proceed to a compensation model that rewards adding value at all workplaces? How could this be measured? I’ve never heard an employer disagree with the claim that the meaning of work is to achieve the employer’s goals, not to collect working hours. That being said, why is it that in many companies the employee knows his hours better than his goals, performance, metrics or rewards? When the goals are managed right, working time and location will be flexible. Like Daniel Pink states in his book Drive, we’ve realized at Microsoft that by using goals to manage, managers can focus on the essential and at the same time employee engagement increases, when the employee has the responsibility to meet the goals.
Even this blog post came into being, when I was driving to work; it required a little bit of concentration and was finalized in twenty minutes in the library of our Meeting Point, an interruption-free zone. Now it’s time to head for a lunch meeting in our cafeteria to innovate our concept for the Internet of Things. After the meeting, the day continues with Lync meetings at my home office. And rest assured, I won’t feel guilty about not sitting at my workspace – we don’t even have personal workspaces anymore.
If it was up to me, I would give all Finnish employees the gift of teleworking for Christmas. It would definitely be one of the key drivers to get Finland back on the growth track.
Writer is the Marketing and Business Director of Microsoft Finland as well as an adventurer in the world of new work, devoted father of a tech-savvy family and a drummer for a good cause.