After reading about how flexible working could play a key role in closing the gender pay gap, it made me wonder why flexible working isn’t commonplace already; especially in the marketing industry. The tools that allow us to deliver great results for our clients are the same tools that should be setting us free from the established white collar 9-5 working pattern.
Most of the tasks we work on in marketing don’t require our presence in the office. Even better, If you’re developing a website, you can do that at home, at midnight in your pyjamas. If you’re planning an email campaign, you can do it at 7:00am, then schedule it to go out later.
So how did we get here? Why is the solution already here? And why should we change the status quo?
Why We’re Here
The path to our current 9-5 existence lies in the industrial revolution. Before that time of great change, we followed the rhythm of time given to us by agriculture. Working during daylight was the norm and of course, industry went as high as it could with 16 hour days.
As the industrial revolution took hold, we moved to cities and got jobs working in factories. Then in turn, more jobs were created providing services for those new workers and factories. The factories processed raw materials for use in other industries or turned materials, raw or otherwise into finished products.
Generally, factories could only work during the day when they were often still very dark and dangerous places to earn a living. Everyone had to physically be at their place of work to operate the machines.
People became frustrated with working such long hours and labour unions fought for better conditions which included reduced hours. Eight hours became the standard working day. Enough time be as productive as possible and still allow us to eat and sleep ready for another day of work.
No Need For 9-5 With Marketing Automation
There’s no longer any need for the 9-5 because we have marketing automation. We can work when it’s convenient and see our work impact at the best time; which might not be inside that eight hour window.
The past decade has seen vast changes in the way we use the internet. Connectivity has increased, with fast, reliable internet access at home (I still remember my old 56k modem), more wi-fi hotspots around and the coverage of mobile networks increasing all the time with faster and faster speeds available.
Our social lives are increasingly mobile and increasingly flexible. New online resources are now designed to be accessed on mobile devices first and foremost. But our jobs have remained static and tied down to one physical location and set times of work. Why hasn’t this changed?
We’re tweeting on the go, we can compose emails, even in software like MailChimp using our mobile phone while sitting on the train. We don’t need to be in the office. We could be sitting in a coffee shop having lunch, then work on a short blog post and hit publish before we leave.
Many marketers work remotely
Many marketers work remotely because of the freedom modern technology offers us. Our output is not a physical product that needs to be created with specialist machinery that can’t be moved. If any physical production is involved, we’ve outscored that already.
Our product is our mind. The knowledge we can impart and the time we spend helping businesses to grow. Our machinery consists of our laptop, tablet and mobile phone; all items that can travel with us wherever we go.
A lot of us outsource work to freelancers across the world and agencies in neighbouring cities. Our marketing teams can work next door to the factory or at home.
Tweet Deck, Hootsuite, Vocus PR Suite, Majestic SEO, MailChimp, WordPress and a plethora of other popular tools can be used at any time of day from anywhere in the world. I can create Tweets, emails and blog posts at any time, then schedule them to be published at the best time for my audience.
When is the best time for my audience? When they’re at their 9-5 job? It could be. It could also be during the evening or on the weekend when I would not be working a 9-5 marketing job. Ironically, whilst being tied down to them, we often schedule things to be published outside our 9-5 Monday to Friday working hours when it suits our audience.
There really is no need for any other marketer to be tied to an office every day of the week between 9:00am and 5:00pm. In most jobs I’ve worked at in the past, it’s not been necessary for me to be in the office and at my desk every day.
So why do we still work rigid hours rather than flexible hours?
Home and Office Balance
It’s important to balance time spent working from home and time spent at the office. I don’t think working from home would work at all times for all employees. The key is to strike a balance in favour of spending more time away from the office.
One great thing about the office is that it provides a focal point for a team with common goals. A central office is a great tool for promoting group cohesion. A place with a good working atmosphere in which everyone is pulling in the same direction and can encourage each other should not be dismissed.
The motivation factor of having colleagues is amazing. It helps us to set and be aligned with company goals, it allows us to bounce ideas off each other, to collaborate and run projects effectively. These benefits come because we can build human face-to-face relationships.
An office space is also the best place to meet clients. It’s a private arena with all the technology and resources you need to serve your client’s needs. With the whole team there, clients paying a visit can get an idea of company values and atmosphere.
Of course, one of the most important reasons for having an office is that being at work creates a ‘work mode’, in which everyone there knows they’re there to work and produce results.
Solo entrepreneurs and start-up companies often use flexible office spaces to replicate this kind of atmosphere. Such facilities can provide a great boost for these type of business owners, even if it’s a solo office in a larger building. An official office space allows networks to develop, creates a sense of camaraderie as everyone is in the same boat and serves to create a specific work environment; separating work life from home life.
Far from going to a model where we all work 100% from home, there is a balance that can be struck based on the needs of the group and its individuals.
Alternative working hours are possible
Now we know there’s an alternative to the 9-5 every day. Not everyone needs to be in the office at exactly the same time every day. We can all still get the benefits of a shared workspace while still being flexible.
Every successful marketing organisation needs to arrange client meetings and these need to be conducted at a reasonable time for all parties. Currently, that isn’t 7:00am/pm and probably never will be with the exception of meetings across different time zones. When you’re working on major projects, there will be days when everyone has to be in the office at the same time.
Just as often, there will be times when members of the team can be permitted to work from home. Thanks to technology, WFH doesn’t mean you’re so far out of reach you can’t still do your job and be there for your colleagues.
As we’re no longer bound to our desks, it allows us to start work a few hours earlier in the summer. Perhaps even start at 7am on some days and finish at 3:30 instead of 5:30, get out and enjoy the sunshine. That’s not for everyone, but why shouldn’t we have the option?
Technology Should Set Us Free
We’ve worked to build a world full of technology and that technology is what should set us free. We can now live happier, more productive lives. Life can now mean doing more of what we enjoy, but our current work patterns aren’t giving us more of those opportunities.
I did a search for ‘life work balance’, using the word ‘life’ as the focal point, but all of the results were talking about a work-life balance. Work is the focus word, but we’re looking at things from the wrong angle.
Marketing tools and automation are setting us free so we can focus on life, yet we still see work as the most important part of our existence.
What technology can really do for marketers is help us all to live happier lives with more social time. In jobs where our minds are the biggest asset, allowing employees to work outside the regular 9-5 can be a great way to give them small treats like the afternoon off. We can work a bit during the evening or work from home for one or two days a week, or WFH a few times a month.
The move to technology is slow
Change seems to be slow to come, though in the last 25 years supermarkets have started to open on Sunday and stay open 24hrs during the week. A lot is changing, but white collar jobs like marketing have been slow to adapt.
What does this mean for your business? Build a flexible team or take a blended approach where some things are outsourced and others handled in-house.