So London is finishing up the largest enforced flexible working experiment any capital city has ever seen, thanks to Homer’s legacy. The ghostliness of many a train and station has testified to the seizing of the opportunity to avoid the insanity of the daily simultaneous commute, and the senseless requirement to be present for a full working day simply to be seen. Holidays aside, many will now go back to the way they worked before. So where does that leave us? Have we learned anything about ourselves, our lives and our work?
Fortunately the term work-life balance has been comprehensively debunked – recognising the increasing intrusion of one into the other, we have arrived at terms including work-life fit and work-life weave. Which means that we are likely to struggle even more with the notion of what – in many respects – work actually is.
It is likely that we all draw the line in different places. So here is a test. Which of the below would you class as “working”? For a YES score 2 points, and none for a NO:
- Reading Procrastination Today on the beach on holiday, folding the corner over “for later” where you find a useful article (unlikely, but go with it for now)
- Watching early evening TV with the kids, while e-mailing a colleague (taking care not to call him Daddy Pig)
- Enjoying a working lunch with a supplier, debating the miserable decline of British football – so quite a long lunch
- Selecting guavas in the supermarket at lunchtime, while taking a call from a client and offering some free advice (on guavas)
- In the office, searching online for a birthday present
- Having dinner with you partner, and seeking some guidance as to how to avoid a needless backstabbing in the office
- On the bus on the way home, drafting notes for a talk you are giving at a conference later in the month (and wondering why you ever agreed to do it)
- Following a Ken Hom recipe in the kitchen on a Monday evening (your turn to cook), thanking your stars you installed a splashback, breaking off to write notes for a slide presentation that’s needed for the end of the week – sometimes using a chopstick
Add up your score. It’s actually not relevant. “Working” is no longer an absolute term. Much of the time we don’t know whether we are working or not, the only valid test is subjective. If we don’t know, then our managers or organisations can’t know either, even if they think they do. Which is why for all but the most process-oriented tasks, it no longer matters –outcomes do.
So if we have learned anything while the medal-racking has been going on, it’s probably that we know less about “work” than we did before. And hopefully we have learned that it doesn’t matter.