Smart Working embeds flexibility and mobility into the normal way of working, rather than being something exceptional. Having flexibility in time and location applies to more types of activities than is often thought, as long as they are implemented in the right way and managed well.

But sometimes assumptions are made about the capacity to work flexibly based on traditional ways of working, or misunderstandings about how work can be done now.  Here we look at some common myths and misconceptions, and how to answer them.

1) “It’s all about benefits for employees – especially people with caring responsibilities”

Working flexibly does indeed have many advantages for people who have to combine work and caring responsibilities. But this ‘family-friendly’ potential is only one side of the story.

The key features of a smarter approach to flexibility – working at different times, in different places and with new technologies – are about being more effective and efficient in our work. In doing so there are new opportunities to enable people to contribute their best while having more choice in organising their working pattern.

So it’s about reducing unnecessary travel, replacing a meetings culture with a culture of flexible collaboration, managing the ‘anywhere, anytime team’ effectively as well as providing a way to retain the best people in the company when their life circumstances change.

And did you know: two-thirds of people who work mainly from home in the UK are men? So it’s clearly not all about mothers.

2) “This kind of job can’t be done flexibly”

If you start thinking about a job from the way it has always been done, you may conclude that it can’t be done flexibly. But thinking about Smart Working involves thinking in innovative ways. Certain types of work indeed will be more place-specific, and other types of work more time-specific. But the key to thinking through change is to:

1) Look at the activities involved in the work, rather than how those activities are packaged up into a whole job. Some activities are likely to be more capable of being done in different ways than others. It’s important to resist focusing on the least flexible activity and making that the time and location of that activity the default for all the other activities.

2) Look at activities across the team. How can sharing and delegating activities create scope for more flexibility – and make us more effective and efficient as well?

3) Consider how work can be carried out using the new technologies we are rolling out, e.g. by having more remote interaction through Skype for Business.

There may be much more scope for working smarter than meets the eye!

3) “I need to have my team where I can see them”

One of our main goals is to manage by results, rather than by presence. Simply turning up to work does not mean that people are working well. If people need watching all the time, there are probably some underlying performance issues.

Note also the assumption in the statement that the manager is always there in the office to watch over people!

4) “We’ll never see each other,” “Our team will become fragmented”

This can be one of the greatest fears when people first start to undertake Smart Working. In practice, people do see each other much more often than some people initially fear – but having everyone all working at the same time in the same place may become less frequent.

And well-managed remote working teams [see Rethinking meetings and flexible collaboration and The 8 Habits of high performing smart workers] have techniques and routines to keep in touch and build team spirit even when working at different times and places.

These techniques can also be supported by having a Team Agreement.

5) “It will be harder work to manage performance”

With Smart Working teams, methods of scheduling, monitoring and evaluating work often need to become more systematic compared to when managing performance relies heavily on looking over someone’s shoulder. 

A key feature of Smart Working is managing through results. This should lead to better management, better monitoring of work-in-progress, better quality and fewer missed deadlines.

This does depend also on allowing colleagues to get on with the job and take greater responsibility for organising their own work and taking ownership of the output. This approach is very much in line with our Imperial Expectations.

One we start managing by results, then it often matters less where and when much of the work takes place.

The guidance in this Toolkit on Managing By Results will help you to work through the issues around this.

6) “Flexible working and career progression – they don’t go together”

They can do, and they should do. Working at different times and locations should not make a difference in most cases if management through results and the principles of working in Smart Working teams are applied.

Working smarter and enabling more flexible patterns of work is also essential for diversity, not least for providing the context for recruiting more people from excluded groups and enabling them to move into management.

7) “It’s all about hot-desking – which will be a nightmare because we’ll be running around looking for somewhere to sit all the time!”

Smart Working does involve the sharing of space. The aim is to create many new spaces, in particular, better spaces for different kinds of collaborative activities – informal breakout spaces, meeting rooms, spaces for confidential one-to-ones, spaces for Skype calls, project rooms (etc). The modern office isn’t all about desks.

And the kind of Smart Working we’re talking about will have clearly defined team priority areas, plus touchdown desks when people only need to use a desk for a while (for example, between meetings), and the other ‘activity-based’ spaces. It is important, though, that team areas are not treated as exclusive, and people from other teams sometimes working there are made to feel welcome.

The sum total of work positions overall exceeds the number of employees and offers better choices for being more productive.  Space-sharing isn’t a problem if it’s approached in a spirit of goodwill and teams adopt the working practices to make it a success.