Where should the “Director of Work” fit into large organisations?

by Paul Carder on August 9, 2012

Our next study, through our Occupiers Journal groups of ‘end users’ around the world, will focus on this very subject. The foundations built from our “Raising The Bar” study, sponsored by the RICS, will be presented at World Workplace San Antonio on 2nd Nov 2012. We will lead on from this, to look at how, and from which disciplines, this new role of Director of Work will be created.

I wrote about this subject two years ago on my personal blog, and the idea has started to take hold across our team. We are convinced that a new role is needed, to bring together the several corporate functions that do not currently have “enterprise-wide” leadership in supporting effectiveness of work, and workplace experience.

Look at this from an employee (or ‘worker’ – could be employed by another party) perspective, in one large organisation. Let’s call him, or her, Charlie (could be male or female of course). Who advises Charlie ‘how’ to work? Not, what to do – that is usually fairly clear, and dictated by line management or some form of matrix structure. What is not always clear is when, where, and how to work? Nobody really provides much in the way of vision, or policy, to help ensure that people are adopting ‘best practice’ ways of working. Or, that they are getting a positive, healthy and productive work experience. ‘Place’ is a factor, as is designing the ‘experience of work’.

Let’s take ‘when’ to work first. Charlie probably has a contract that says working hours are 0900 to 1730 (or similar), with a half-hour unpaid lunch break. But who actually works these hours, these days? Maybe some public sector workers, and union-backed employees? But most of us never take any notice of contracted hours – we work however many hours it requires to get the work done. It is all about output, not hours worked. So the Human Resources (HR) Director sets policy on working hours, but what about work outside of these hours? HR will probably say, that is down to the employee and his/her line manager. But how many line managers know how many hours their teams are working? In today’s mobile, global, business environment, manager and employee may not see each other daily. How many line managers say “Hey, Charlie, how many hours are you working each week? Too many, I think. You should work less, it’s bad for your health and creativity…”. It’s up to us, isn’t it?

Maybe, but who protects the vulnerable? Who makes sure that people do not overwork, get stressed, or worse. Work suffers, relationships suffer, society suffers…it needs to be managed. It needs corporate policy.

How to work and where to work used to be hard-wired to each other. But this is no longer the case, at least for most office-based, or ‘knowledge’ workers. It is a case of “have gadgets, will travel”. Not all office workers need a laptop or tablet, but even desktop PCs are going ‘virtual’, so the employee can work from any desk, logging into any machine.

So let’s take ‘where to work’. Charlie may wake up in the morning, and start work straight away, thinking about the day, checking the BlackBerry, replying to messages. Stop for coffee and croissants, and have a shower. Then, maybe a phone call or two before heading off to the office, or to a meeting somewhere else, or maybe staying put to work from home for a while. Charlie’s partner probably works too, so Charlie may stop for a couple of hours at 3pm to collect children from school, or visit the gym, walk the dog, or whatever. Then, Charlie may work through until 8pm, before meeting friends. So, what is the policy here for ‘where to work’? Maybe there doesn’t need to be one?
The problem comes back though, when one combines ‘when to work’ questions with ‘where to work’, and then looks at the most vulnerable employees. If Charlie is already working too many hours, perhaps it is due to a skill shortage or lack of training. Or, maybe there are management problems with workload spreading. But if Charlie (or manager) also has it in mind that work must be done in the office, but Charlie has a 2 hours round-trip from home each day, this is simply adding to stress.

How to work is perhaps more complex again. It can be a combination of ‘when and where’, along with ‘who to work with’ at times. And at other times, ‘how to work’ can be solely the decision of the worker. Communication and visibility are often key factors. When is it necessary to have face-to-face meetings, and when can this be managed in different ways – telephone, Skype, Webex, video-conferencing, etc.

Line managers are often ill-equipped to advise staff on ‘how to work’. They know what needs to be achieved, and they may (hopefully) set clear objectives and targets. But thereafter, it is often, maybe mostly, down to the employee to get on with it. How much training do people get on the work tools around them? In my experience, it is pretty patchy to say the least. Even diary, calendar and task management – how many people know how to use all the features of MS Outlook or Lotus Notes? But today, there are so many other software and hardware tools, from simple dial-in phone numbers to full experience tele-presence.

Who brings together the ‘when, where and how’ of work, to set policy and options that can support employees?

HR has a role to play, for sure. But HR Directors do not set policy on ‘when, where and how’ to work. Line managers do that, to some extent. But, for the reasons discussed above, most line managers or Business Unit heads do not have the skills to advise on the options for ‘when, where and how’ to work. Or probably just as importantly, they often do not want to make decisions – they would rather avoid the issue of things like working from home, or stress of travel to work.

What actually happens, in many organisations, I would guess is a mixture of apathy and avoidance of responsibility (and therefore risk, in getting it ‘wrong’), with little support from the Executive Board (C-Suite). The HR department think that ‘work’ is the line managers responsibility, and the line manager is hoping that HR is dealing with any ‘human/personal’ issues that people have with their work effectiveness, stress, motivation, etc.

Enter, stage left…..the “Director of Work”

The Director of Work may sit in the line management area, under the Chief Operating Officer (COO), or under the HR area perhaps. But either way, the role would bring together the issues of ‘when, where, and how to work’, looking at the vision for how the organisation should work most effectively, reviewing options, and setting policy for when these options may be most appropriate. The Director of Work would then also set a programme of training for line managers, to make sure that they have full understanding of all the options for when, where and how to work. And, the role would manage the human and organisational risks of getting this wrong – stress, illness, inefficiency, morale, staff turnover, or just plain old boredom.

Director of Work meets Director of Workplace….

The Director of Work would be a key ally for any Director of Real Estate and Workplace Resources/Facilities Management. We all need advice on ‘ways of working’, and without it we have to create our own policy by negotiation and discussion with business units and functions. The Director of Work, with a mandate from the Executive Board (C-Suite), would be a breath of fresh air for most RE/Workplace professionals.

Or is it also a potential career move for some?

Paul  (paul.carder@occupiersjournal.com); twitter @occupiers

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