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You’re Living in 2019. I’m Already in 2029!

Washington Post columnist Gene Marks reflects on the recently released Future of Work report and the ways in which his own workforce has changed. Do you see the same shifts happening in your business?
Work shifting work force

When people ask me about my company's hours, I usually reply, "We have no hours." When others ask if we're open on an upcoming holiday, I always say, "We never close." And it's the truth. We're a virtual company so we don't have a physical office. But even if we did (and we once did, a decade ago) just because no one's in our physical office, that doesn't mean that we're not available.

This may be 2019. But — believe it or not — I'm actually in 2029! Well, at least that’s true for my business.

No, I’m not some kind of visionary. But I admit that even though I specialize in making mistakes and messing things up, there is one policy that I've inadvertently stumbled upon that's worked really well. It's about flexibility. My policy is simple: work wherever and whenever you want — just get your job done.

I've learned, for better or worse, that I'm terrible with details. I'm not a micromanager. I don't have the patience or the discipline to closely supervise my employees. I'm too wrapped up with all the things that I'm doing. So instead, and for years, I’ve been doing something else: giving my employees independence. Call me lazy. But it works. And … it’s what my people want.

They all have their tasks to do. Most of them work on client projects. Everyone works from home or at their clients’ locations. I don't ask when their day starts and ends. I don't ask them what they're doing. I don't ask them how they spend their time. All I ask are two things: that they're available when clients (and when I) need them and that their clients are happy. Period. If that’s at 10pm or on Christmas, that’s between them and their clients. They’ve always seemed to figure it out.

According to Paychex's recent Future of Work report, I’m onto something.

The report, which queried 546 randomly selected workers employed at companies with less than 49 employees, found that 73 percent of those surveyed preferred some sort of flexible scheduling, like a compressed work week or unique hours depending on the job, and 58 percent of them said they prefer to work from home.

The good news is that employers are responding. Paychex found that a rising number of employers are offering a more casual dress code, flexible scheduling options, open workspaces, and work-from-home options. They're also equipping their employees with mobile devices rather than desktops so that they're not tied to their desks.

Statistic about flexible scheduling

Yes, this is being driven by a shift in generations. The largest percentage of workers today are from the millennial generation (39.5 percent, according to the Paychex report) and this is a generation that is demanding more balance in their lives, more time to spend with their families, and more independence for how they do their jobs.




How and when we accomplish work is evolving. And it makes sense.




For me, it’s a sound business decision. My employees are big boys and girls. They have jobs to do and I trust them to do it. Although I'm not a micromanager, I'm still a manager. I check in with them and their teammates frequently. I also check in directly with clients even more often. As busy as I am, I do stay on top of our projects and why shouldn't I? I'm not running Google. I only have ten employees.




My attitude is that I'm not paying my employees to do a job. I'm paying them to get a job done. How and when they accomplish that objective is up to them.




Of course, giving my employees autonomy and independence hasn’t worked for all. I've had a few over the years that couldn't handle the lack of structure and the absence of supervision. But, like so many problems in business, it affected maybe 10 to 20 percent of my people. The other 80 percent or so were fine, so I didn't need to spend much time fixing the situation. Ultimately, the people that couldn't fit our culture had to move on elsewhere.


Quote about paying employees


The future of work means the end of the 9 to 5 workday. It’s about giving your employees the autonomy to get the job done, regardless of where — and when — they're doing the work. Of course, this is easier for some companies than others. But this is what your people are demanding, and the smartest companies I know are already responding.




As for me, well ... I'll keep pretending that I'm a visionary. Until five minutes from now when I make the next mistake. A customer issue? Why didn’t I see that coming?




gene marks headshot

Gene Marks is a business owner, small business expert, author, speaker, CPA, and columnist for The Washington Post.

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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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