Tuesday, 29 May 2007

The Results Oriented Work Environment: Or, why librarians can't have a balanced worklife

Ryan Healy had an interesting post last week on Brazen Careerist about work-life balance and independence. The general gist of it being that when we were in university we were taught (in theory) how to manage our own time - no one was making you go to class or study or party or sleep, or any of the things that needed to be done. It was up to the individual to produce the results at the end of the day. And if you didn't hand your assignment in, or missed a valuable tidbit of info cause you didn't go to class? Pretty much your own fault.

However, for some reason, within the corporate environment, it's like we're back in high school again. Have to be in at a certain time, couldn't possibly leave twenty minutes early, need to be doing certain tasks at given times - the independence to choose our own tasks and own best ways of working has been taken away from us. There is a move though, towards a better way of working - what he refers to as the Results Oriented Work Environment - where it is not the hours that we are in front of our computers that are important, but the results that we turn in at the end of the day.

This is a really popular issue, particularly in the States, where this kind of flexible working (particularly for information workers) has really taken off.

Now, whilst I don't agree with quite everything he's saying (I don't think it would be refreshing to not be able to distinguish at all between my working and non-working time - I like being able to turn off some of the time), I do think that work-life balance is something that is often overlooked within our sector. Unfortunately, though, we are fundamentally a customer service industry - someone needs to be here to man the reference desks and circulate journals and do all those other hands on jobs that need to be done.

In theory there's no reason why I couldn't work the reference desk from at home (even if it only was for a day or a morning a week). Most, if not all, of the resources I need are available online - I don't need to be in the physical library space to answer queries. Indeed, as an information worker, I could be anywhere to do the majority of the tasks for my job. It would be nice just to have that flexibility. I don't think a nine-to-five day is the best answer for me personally, and the way I best work - I'd love to have the option to time-shift and work an eleven-to-eight day, or work from home a few days a week. But most of my job works better with me being in the office - it's good to have face time with our users, sometimes you just need that hard copy text, and our work is not so autonomous and web-based that we can get away with not being in at all.

Sadly though, I just don't think that flexi-work in this kind of way is really practical for the library environment. As much as I'd like to work a time-shifted day, my lawyers are in the office from nine to five (well, give or take), so that's when I need to be there too. And someone needs to be here to do all those physical tasks that need to be done. It's great to see that other professional areas are taking up this idea, and that there is progressively being a move away from the traditional nine-to-five. It just isn't something that is really practical for the library sector just yet (well, at least not for the corporate library sector, anyway). Or is it? Anyone out there with flexible working arrangements, teleworking, anything like that? I'd love to know how it works for you (even if it is just to wish and dream that I could do it too!)

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