Assuming positive intent: a smart approach to flexible working

By Carrie Kleiner for Box News

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: the way we work is changing. 

As Generation Z starts flooding the workplace with their nomadic, culture-focused approach, we’re poised to say goodbye to set career paths and organisational loyalty. Instead, expect to see the new workforce jumping from role to role, chasing great culture, autonomy and financial security. And, if you want to stay in the game, you’d better start playing.

Why you need to care about the changing workplace

Here at Box Media, we’re pretty obsessed with the future of work. Not least because we spend some of our time hanging out in our experimental playground working with behavioural scientists exploring AI and robotics, and how they’re going to affect the way we work. 

We believe that the future will be a blend of human and machine, which will allow us to ‘be more human’. Moving away from menial, repetitive tasks, and focusing on using our knowledge creatively, we’re able to hone all-important soft skills into superpowers. 

Almost all industries are looking at ways to save money. Many are looking at ways to save the planet, too. Thinking about how to have a more flexible workplace not only suits the roaming tendencies of Generation Z, but it also gives us an opportunity to:

  • reduce our footprints in expensive city-centre locations
  • reduce our carbon footprints as a whole 
  • encourage a better work-life balance by letting people work locally

Sure, this comes with some challenges, but there’s a lot of scope to see things differently. We can improve our quality of life, reduce costs and increase productivity if we do things right.

Moving towards an outcome-led approach, and waving goodbye to presenteeism

‘Doing it right’ can be easier said than done, though. 

Presenteeism has long felt like an essential part of working life for almost every industry. 

Of course, there will always be some industries, jobs and roles that require you to be physically present. For example, I’m not quite sure how you’d serve lunch in a cafe, or care for people in a hospital without some onsite staff. However, even in industries where all you need is a computer and an internet connection, there’s still sometimes a tendency to need to ‘see’ your staff to know they’re working.

Firstly, if a member of staff is slacking off when they’re working from home, they’re probably finding ways to slack off when they’re working in the office, too. This is a management issue that can be dealt with if you’re: 

  • ready to have tough conversations
  • willing to set goals, targets, clear deadlines and objectives
  • able to put some trust in your people to do what is expected of them, even if you can’t ‘see’ what they’re up to

Assuming positive intent – even though your parents told you not to

One way to get the best out of a team, even when you can’t see them, is an approach called ‘assumed positive intent’. 

Put simply:

“Assuming positive intent means always starting from the idea that a person meant well or was doing their best, no matter what they say or do.”

We are brought up to mistrust people’s kind behaviour. We teach kids to assume that people have their own selfish motivations for their seemingly selfless behaviour towards us, and this mistrust causes misguidance. 

At work, that misguidance often manifests itself as a tendency not to offer yourself selflessly to others in case your actions are, themselves, misconstrued. This cycle then means you tend not to trust the people around you as a result. 

To break the cycle, you need to assume that your team are doing what you’ve asked of them. If you combine this with clearly defined outcome-based activities, you won’t need to keep checking in – if they’re not working like you assume they should be, it’ll become apparent very quickly. If this happens, you’ll need to tackle it head-on – but if you continue to anticipate positive intent, you’ll be able to have this conversation in a constructive and open, rather than accusatory way. 

Embracing flexibility to stay ahead of the game

Lots of horizon-scanning experts see flexible working as defining the future of work. Looking for the best candidate, without geographical restrictions, will help open up the ‘workplace’ more than ever before. Embracing a blended workforce of full-time, part-time, job share and remote workers will encourage true diversity, and make our workforce happier and more productive!

Some practical steps to get you started

  • don’t expect to change the world overnight – make small, incremental changes over time
  • make a plan – without it, your changes will fall through the cracks
  • involve your people – to realise long-lasting change you have to bring your team on the journey with you, help them feel part of the changes, and assume positive intent
  • lead from the front – if you don’t lead the changes and show your team how it should be, don’t expect them to make the changes on their own.