Horrible Bosses, the edgy 2011 comedy starring Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell as gleefully playing managers-from-our-worst-nightmares, was about as subtle as a stapler to the forehead. Thankfully most of us will never experience being threatened with death or blackmailed by our bosses.
However, many of us could relate to Spacey's one beady eye on the clock and another on a closed-circuit video revealing precisely when his employees arrived at work through the company parking garage. Spacey's David Harken was driven not only by his addictions -- to power, humiliation, $1,400 suits and early-morning highballs -- but also by a century-old workplace myth: you have to physically watch the people you lead to determine whether they're being productive.
This is an ugly throwback to the Industrial Revolution, when bosses kept their own beady eyes on workers stationed on the assembly line, as it was pretty hard to produce any sort of value if you weren't touching the goods. This was something Jennifer Aniston's character was preoccupied with when it came to her male employees!
Even in the mid-part of the 20th century and the advent of computers, massive mainframes required that thousands commute to the same place every day so they could connect to a network. The wires connecting us together disappeared with the VHS, yet the mind-numbing pilgrimage to and from work, and many of our habits about managing people, carry on to this day.
It's time for a new way of thinking about the workplace.
Horrible Bosses' screenwriters knew that every good story has a challenge to tackle.
In the case of this movie, it was: how do you get rid of a slave-driving, psychotic, or sex-crazed boss?
In our case, the question is: how do we get rid of hour-long commutes, beady-eyed leaders, and grow a high-performance culture that gives people back control of their lives?
It starts by confirming what the new workplace IS, and what it IS NOT.
It is NOT about convincing everyone to work from home with a laptop and a cell phone, or demanding that people leave their corner offices and move to a cubicle.
It IS about individually examining and understanding what kind of environment and tools would allow employees to do the best work of their careers and then providing them with those tools.
Most of our employees told us they hate commuting. It's the number one happiness reducer in most of our lives! But what should a flexible environment look like? And how should it be offered to different kinds of people?
We knew that one size wouldn't fit all when designing our new workplace anymore than if we were buying everyone pants to wear. That's been tried, with disastrous, Horrible Bosses-like results.
So instead of looking for one right answer, we found there were three.
1) For a small cluster of our people who are traditionalists and like going downtown, we didn't take their offices away. But we did give them chances to occasionally video-commute from home and dip a toe in.
2) We had others who -- with a couple grand invested in equipment and bandwidth -- loved to work almost exclusively from home.
3) We had the 'in-betweeners' - the more social folks who didn't always want to work downtown OR from home - so bookable workspaces were made available in the office for them pop in and out as they desired.
Whatever arrangement our employees chose didn't matter to me because it's the results that count, not where they are in order to achieve them.
And the results for us and other companies that embrace flexible workplaces are huge. Our employees, customers, and shareholders are happier. We decreased office space costs by a third saving us millions a year. Employees each saved $3,000 a year in commuting costs, not to mention commuting time. On the environmental side, each participant eliminated about a tonne of carbon from their annual output. Oh, and our share price went up by a whopping 49 per cent last year, which was our most productive period ever!
While all of this makes me very happy, my favourite moment was when a single mom on our team told me that she no longer needs to take two buses and a train to and from the downtown office every day. She is now saving three hours of expensive daycare costs each day, and more importantly, three hours she's now with her kids. The sheer joy in her eyes as she described how her new work arrangement has changed her life is one of the highlights of my career. I felt about as far away from Spacey's character as a leader could possibly get.
We are just one company with fantastic results, but imagine what would happen if more companies (like yours!) started working this way.
Imagine the difference in our cities, our country, and the impact we could have on seriously changing our world. Let's make such a significant change to our workplaces so that five or 10 years from now kids who watch Horrible Bosses won't even know what a 'punch clock' or a 'commute time' is.
The tools are easily available, and the rewards are incredible if you have the courage to let go of some very old habits that need to be recycled, along with your fax machine.