A fable on presentism, productivity and what it might mean for homeworking


A Homeworking Fable

The argument around homeworking reminds me of a fable that gets shared around workplaces and sales teams. It involves an unnamed pharmaceutical sales team that are paid their salary and bonuses based on hitting a weekly target.

This team, hit their daily and weekly targets generally around lunchtime to 2 pm each day, and they clocked off and went home. Their manager was progressive and did not mind this at all. She understood that these sales staff wanted freedom as well as pay from their job.

For a number of years, this team hit targets set and then went home. Retention was really high and staff morale was great, as was customer feedback.

However, one day, a busy beaver from corporate noticed that all the sales orders happened either in the morning or early afternoon. This busy beaver flagged this up with the Vice President of Sales. Who understood straight away what was happening (he did it himself in the good old days when he started out) and called up the manager of this happy, productive team.

The long and the short of the telephone conversation boiled down to the Vice Present wanting all of the team to put in their allotted hours so that their sales will increase. It was of course explained to the Vice President that the staff will not like it. But sadly, he wanted more sales for his annual bonus.

So the manager had to tell the staff, they needed to keep working all the way up to 6 pm selling, every day, whether they hit the target or not. The team was not happy.

Over the coming weeks, sales decreased even with the extra time put into sales as the motivation for having afternoons spent fishing, playing with the kids, doing hobbies or playing golf has gone.

The Vice President was not happy with the decrease in sales. Luckily the regional manager thought quickly and suggested that the staff had been finding hard selling all day and processing the sales on the go, so suggested that they change the policy for order processing to happen every evening. The sales team would process the orders in the evening when they got home, that way they could be selling all day.

The Vice President agreed and everything went back to how it was, except the sales team processed their orders in the evening when it was convenient for them. Sales went back up and corporate never paid attention again.

As with any fable or myth, there is a kernel of truth in the story, whether the story is true or not.

This story does highlight one of the really important points to think about regarding homeworking and managerial and leadership perspectives on homeworking.

Being present is more important than being productive.

This is a sad state of affairs, it is not universal, however, almost every business hires people to solve a problem, whether the problem is an accountancy problem (doing the accounts) or an HR problem (hiring and firing) or sales (bringing in the money). Staff are essentially problem-solvers.

The question that homeworking presents moving forward is will problem solvers who effectively solve problems be rewarded with more free time and flexibility or punished with hours of 'pretend work'?

Please email me at joseph@homeworkinghenry.co.uk if you have any thoughts on this subject.

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