From the Olympics to Wimbledon and the European Football Championships, we’ve seen a summer packed with major sporting events. A recent survey by Office Genie (established as Desk Space Genie in 2009) found a huge majority of UK employees have been engaging with the summer’s sporting events when they should have been working. The survey of 1,504 workers also explored the common approaches undertaken by managers during this period, and the potential pitfalls involved. In this interview, Office Genie’s Head of Strategy, Peter Ames, provides his insight on the survey’s findings, discussing the best options and policies for managers and the next major distraction on the calendar.
– Your recent research found that as many as 82% of employees were engaging with the Summer’s major sporting events when they should have been working. Were you surprised that this figure was so high?
I was, but I was perhaps more surprised by the amount of time wasted. Five full days across the summer is a seriously large amount of time for each person to lose.
– The research also found many bosses were inflexible during this period, failing to allow flexible working or relaxed internet usage to accommodate the summer’s sport. Why do you think so many bosses decided to take such an inflexible approach?
Sadly, I think it’s still as simple as flexible working being seen, by some, as an opportunity for staff to shy away from work – although research has generally proved quite the opposite. I also don’t think many employees are aware of the legislation regarding flexible working; if you’ve been working for a company for more than half a year, then you’re eligible to request it!
– Why do you think it would be preferable for more bosses and managers to allow a more flexible approach, allowing staff to engage with major sporting events?
I think it engenders a culture of trust, which should hopefully be reciprocated; in this case by employees not spending their work time following sporting events. Furthermore, if you offer employees the flexibility to work ‘around’ these things – it stands to reason that when they are working, they are less likely to be distracted.
– What would you recommend as some of the easiest or most effective flexible to put in place to accommodate such events in future?
I think it varies from business to business, but remote working and/or flexible hours tend to be the most common and are often the most suitable policies to put in place. They can be genuinely beneficial year-round, not just around major events: Generally, I feel flexible working can help people work at the most convenient, and crucially, the most productive times.
– Do you think that factors such as mobile technology, smartphone apps etc, have increased the ease with which employees can become distracted by such events?
I think so, it all adds to the distraction. Although for many sectors, people are online all day on a work device, so they wouldn’t need to use a personal device if they felt bold enough to use their work equipment.
– What kind of policies do you think could be put in place to best manage these digital technologies, and could these be part of a wider more flexible approach?
I think a clear and well-communicated internet usage policy is the best place to start – that way everyone knows where they stand and they can’t complain if they are pulled up for falling foul of this.
If you were particularly bold (or trusting) then a purely results-based culture is also a way to manage this: As long as employees get the job done in the allotted time, you don’t need to be as concerned with the means.
Although this sounds good in principle, ultimately if employees are continually doing personal tasks, even in such a culture, there is probably more they can be doing. Targets should perhaps be more demanding if so.
– What do you think will be the next major event, sporting or otherwise to provide a potential distraction for employees in the UK?
Scary though it seems, having just finished talking about the ‘summer of sport’, the next obvious distraction will be the build up to the holiday seasons. Specifically, the sales that seem to be increasingly ubiquitous as we move towards Christmas. Black Friday seems to be making waves this side of the Atlantic in recent years (indeed we found around 60% of people would sale shop online last year) so this looks like being the next big distraction.