The knowledge age, paid in the industrialized age

I remember working at a factory the summer I left high school. I stood on a production line for 8 hours a day and placed a bag that collected grass clippings into a box. It was the final piece of the product. There was a direct correlation between the amount of bags I placed and the number of hours I worked. If I stood there for 5, I’d place proportionally less than if I stood there for 8. No ifs, no buts. So, it made sense to pay me for the hours I stood there.

The problem is we apply this same concept in the non-labour, knowledge type jobs (which many of us work). In these jobs, organizations still remunerate their employees for spending x amount of hours at work, even though the correlation between time spent at your desk and performance is not correlated the same way. It’s difficult to tangibly measure what we produce; we’re not stood on a production line.

We’re in the knowledge age, and the line between work and life is so blurred. Many of us carry thoughts of work into our lives. During our commute we’ll think about work. Sitting at home we’ll think about work…and unfortunately, when we should be focussed on the things that matter the most, our family, we’ll think about work.

Not all of this is bad. In fact, it often adds value to our work; we’re thinking through problems and ways to solve issues. But, there’s no way to ‘count this time’, and we still go to the office for our mandatory 7.5 hours. Yet in the knowledge age, what will take me 5 hours to do may only take you 3. Yet you still need to sit at your desk for the full 5.

We know the internet has changed the society we live in. Services are no longer restricted to 9-5. Many can be done 24/7, online and at our own convenience. So why can’t our work be done this way? Why can’t we be paid based on the value of what we produce – performance driven remuneration? And why can’t we fit our work schedules around our life? Why should it be the other way around?

I think if knowledge organizations want to attract and subsequently keep the best, they need a fundamental shift in how they approach work.

They need to remunerate based on what’s accomplished and forget about time.

But how do you pay someone for a year worth of work based on two pages of set goals? Well here’s how: TRUST. You trust them. You trust that they’re professional, conscientious and want the best for their team and their mandate. They don’t need to be in the office for 7.5 hours, Monday through Friday. The irony is, with this freedom they will almost certainly work harder and produce more. If you can’t trust them then you shouldn’t have hired them (character trumps technical competence).

Quite frankly, it matters not how and when they get their work done, as long as it’s done. If this means a couple of hours in the morning before their kids wake, then breaking for the school run etc, continuing a little more during the day and then finishing off when the kids go to bed at night, then so be it. Some simple guidelines can make this all feasible.

I know I give so much more when I have this type of flexibility; I’m so much happier, so much more engaged, and my employer gets so much more out of me. All it takes is trust.

This can’t happen in all industries, but it can happen in many. Face to face interaction is still critical to help build the trust and relationship. But, once it’s established, and as long as it’s maintained there’s no need to be sat in the same boardroom. The boardroom can be all of our own kitchen tables.

“The greatest gift you can provide to the people that you lead is the feeling of empowerment. When someone knows they have the ability to take action, or make a decision, and they know you are there to support them, those people migrate from being a follower to becoming a partner in leadership. Effective leaders gain power by giving power away to others.” (Author unknown)

None of this is new. Its just modernizing telework agreements so they keep pace with the technological developments around us.

Organizations will likely survive if they don’t do this. But I want to be part of one that thrives. That’s the difference.

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