So there was a discussion on DWG’s internal Yammer board about the rise of flexible working on the Guardian: Banks and financial firms dominate list of most flexible employers. This was all good news inside DWG/IBF as a) many of the companies listed were members or former members, b) We love flexible working and the digital workplace and c) Many of us have chosen the freelancing lifestyle so that we can work flexibly to ease the care of our families. Others of course just do it for the money, the chicks or to be able to live in remote areas.
Front and centre of the Guardian article was a stock photo that is becoming a sort of race memory. I have seen its type many times before:
Between lazy journalism, incredibly lazy photo-editing and hackneyed stock photography, we have the narrative told again. Whatever the realities of flexible working, the photo always attempts to mash children, parenthood and work into a single image. Above we have a toddler playing with a desk phone while we assume Dad is in the background wearing a tie. If he’s working from home, why the hell is he in a tie. If he’s got work to-do after hours why isn’t he getting it done quickly and effectively upstairs in the study in an ergonomically approved chair so he can then be truly present for his family. If both Mum and Dad are working from home why the hell isn’t the child in child-care.
Of course we know that having a kid around the shop when you are trying to work is pretty much a non-starter. My wife who shares our home-office 1.5 days per week was even asked explicitly by her employer what our childcare arrangements would be. This is the reality of doing this well. We know that, the Guardian journo know that too. But the picture plays on some weird ghost of a thought.
Let’s review the evidence and look at some other examples.
Here we are again, with twins this time. A sippy-cup is in the foreground. I’ve tried having our kids on my knee at the computer. Guess what? They try and bash the keyboard and are generally irritating and kill productivity and professionalism. They kill it dead:
But don’t they grow fast? Here’s another example from the Graun and the cutie-pie is now talking back. This wouldn’t work in our house because number one son would be issuing a lecture on the relative merits of Star Wars characters in Lego form. Incessantly. For hours. When I work around and abouts the place in noisy locations I usually wear headphones, but I think he would take umbrage if I tried it at home. Remember this article is about benefits packages, not how to avoid discussions about Star Wars Lego:
It’s not just the mums of course, let’s hear it for the dads. This article is about employers being reluctant to offer working from home. Well so would I if I thought you had a three month old either asleep or puking on your shoulder:
Another one with the baby present, but this time Dad’s got it covered. He clearly got in early with the Medised. The Telegraph gets in on the act:
Is teleworking driving us crazy? Well you shouldn’t be allowed a laptop computer if you put it, yourself in a suit, a baby and a bowl of cereal together. The BBC fares a little better in general but their Thinkstock licence is used to egregious effect here:
Again I wonder why employers worry about ergonomics and employees working in inappropriate situations when they allow working from home:
OK, finally no children present, but there are toys in the background, we are suddenly in the garden and posture is shot to shit again:
The photographer here wasn’t able procure a child model for the shoot so picked up some toys at the pound shop. This is more realistic, but if my life is anything to go by, the background would be far more untidy than this (and about 35% Lego):
Let’s get out of the domestic environment entirely, and lets go to the beach. No, actually lets talk about the legal right to have access to flexible working. But here’s a picture of mum and toddler at the beach. SLACKERS!
Finally in the parenthood section featuring a Motorola brick from 1995, we see Mum has in fact taken the kids and the laptop to the beach. Hang on, those kids are probably in the workforce now.
So if you have got this far, and you are not yet a parent let’s look at some stock that has been used when just talking about working from home, because you know maybe, it isn’t just a practice used to ease parenthood. Here’s a Guardian Olympic story. I could hold this pose and smile for about 58 seconds before the bad-back/ hot knee/ rictus grin combo became fatal:
And if you have decided that children are not for you and pets will satisfy that need for companionship and love, without the need for childcare, or university fees, here’s an example for the dog lovers. Note that she’s in the KITCHEN in a rubbish chair, surrounded by dishcloths. Presumably she won’t be able to start the day until 9:15 because of a heavy washing-up workload and she’ll need to walk the dog three times:
So what have we learned about flexible working and journalism. These are the visions of people who don’t share the actual lifestyle that flexible working is trying to maintain. The photographers are trying to earn a crust and they can earn it by slamming a few concepts together with some strobes and a wide-angle lens. They get used by lazy picture editors who are trying to make stories more engaging.
These fictions get me riled because they play on the childish fears of managers and co-workers who believe that flexible working and working from home are somehow threatening. In general what is going on in these pictures is the opposite of what the articles were about – the media appears to be broadly behind flexible working and the digital workplace. In reality working with a baby on one’s knee just doesn’t happen to any degree that I’m aware of. Children are at school, nursery or with a child-minder. We have the opportunity to radically change our relationship with work using technology and dramatically improve our quality of life by reducing commuting time. That is the time that goes to our children (or dogs) instead. Not every article I came across in 30 minutes looking followed this pictorial formula, but none had a picture of a rubbish meeting, or a bored commuter.
That though is only the first step towards organisations not really needing to give a fig about where we are, and leaving the choice to us: because we are adults, and adults that they trust to run and maintain their businesses. It is so easy for large corporates to fence in flexible working as just-a-parent thing, and these pictures subtly and implicitly perpetuate this tired narrative.
There follows a rolling up of sleeves. If I’m going to do this properly there are a few things that must be made straight, to myself. So perversely I shall write the colophon, and let us smirk at the derivation of finishing touch when this is the beginning and I have already achieved so little.
I like to write using Scrivener. This is already a lie as I hate to write. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the fluidity of it when it comes, but the gut wrenching self reflexive post-writing doubt that you’ve put your name against something so poor? No one likes that.
But I do love Scrivener and I have used it for scripts, research papers and blog type writing, and once you get past the separation of creation and output, the flexibility of the non-linear is enchanting. So I have set up a Scrivener project called Blogposts.scriv and I have some folders: Ideas; archive and dead. The current post gets written in the main part of the project using MultiMarkdown, so it is easy to compile it into HTML from there.
Then, to continue the theme of preventing writing using distracting techniques I have an AppleScript on a watched folder that puts the HTML into the clipboard and then opens a new post in WordPress ready to go. Paste in the HTML and it can be fettled in WordPress from then on in.
I like to take photos. It came suddenly and I was overwhelmed about how clean and simple it felt. I was rubbish for a few months and then, and I am positive about this, something changed in my brain and I saw things in different ways. I blogged for Londonist about it. That success fed back into my learning and it moved me onwards. I want to have the same fluidity of expression when writing. Note I said, “when writing” and not “as a writer”. I have as little inclination to become a writer as I do a photographer, but I desperately want to be able to write well, like I want to be able to take a good photograph. As instructions manuals I have:
Ah. Now we come to it. I, like you, spend much of my paid day writing already. I sometimes enjoy it, but they aren’t really my words, and I remain as professionally interested in my topic as ever (the water’s cold, but lovely once you’re in), but in terms of topics it is well represented already by people who are doing a great job of enjoying the cold water, but in terms of topics they are not ones that I feel my fingers will begin to fly because for me they are so well trodden. I am determined that if I have something to share I can do it here, but it won’t be the blog’s purpose.
So, what’s got my attention right now:
- The views expressed by Jaron Lanier that we may have made a terrible mistake in letting the web give it all away for free and the power flowing away to the owners of the networks.
- The ideas rendered down by Adam Curtis in “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” surrounding cybernetics, self forming networks and that many of the principles that have been clutched to chests in the world of social media may not be based in reality.
- The attention economy and the amount of our time we will need to spend prodding social networks to survive
- I am entertained (and so follows the name of the blog) when people and organisations think that people will behave like robots. I am appalled when repeatedly people actually do.
- I am interested in the large scale social changes that are going on within organisations and what that means for management, for individuals and for society at large.
- I am interested in the trade-offs that people are willing to make, are able to to make, to balance their work with their lives.
- I want to know how tasks move through organisations and why task systems never work;
- and I am fascinated about what tools and practices organisations retain out of habit and what will be the implications of the fallout when people finally notice.
I have means, motive and opportunity. Apparently. Talent and time? We’ll see eh?
Gosh a blog, an actual blog.
I have a several other incarnations on the web, most of them photographic as well as the standard twitteryness – you can find them on my About.me page or on the links down the side.
I’m an intranet and digital workplace consultant and I have many colleagues doing valiant work tweeting what’s what in that world, but I find myself stuck for words in the medium. 160 characters minus @s and #s is, let’s face it, somewhat reductive, and I wanted somewhere to expand on things in a more expansive style. It might be useful, it will probably be waffle, but I’d like pen on paper to feel as free and easy as taking photos feels to me, and to do that I must do.
About the name: Abodat (or more authentically “AAA-BOOO-DAAAAT”) is what my oldest son used to say as he pretended to be a robot – finding the idea hilarious and implicitly malevolent at the same time. It struck me that in the world of work we like to pretend to be robots, and in the business of bringing technology to others, particularly within organisations we like to pretend that others are robots. I think we find it easy to fail to see the big picture of that as we scurry to implement the latest stuff.