The future of work lies in flexibility, authenticity, openness and trust

Employers need to accept that performance is more valuable than the length of a working day, writes Aislinn Mahon from Huckletree.

One of the most positive impacts on the workforce in recent years has been an openness in communication, and an authenticity around conversations. Topics like the benefit of achieving a work/life balance, the importance of mental wellbeing, and a flexible approach to working that may have been previously kept out of the workplace are now front and centre of discourse.

We have seen much discussion in the news in recent months regarding companies around the world moving to a 4-day work week, with trials taking place in businesses throughout Ireland.

“It is possible to work hard, both at home and in the office, and also make space for personal responsibilities”

Soon we will have new legislation where parents of children under the age of 12 and caregivers will be able to request any type of flexible working e.g. flexible start and finish times, reduced working hours, split shifts, remote and/or working from home. 

The demand for more flexible work options for parents and caregivers is nothing new, however there is no denying that the pandemic served as a catalyst for such societal progress. We can also argue that these benefits should apply to the entire workforce, and not be limited to those with caregiving responsibilities. It’s time to accept that flexible work structures that prioritise performance over the length of a workday are more valuable and fit for purpose for modern workers, regardless of personal circumstances.  

At Huckletree D2, we have over 80 high growth tech companies working from our Irish hub in Dublin city centre. In the tech industry, there is a more open and proactive approach to workplace shifts; companies tend to be more progressive given their focus on innovation and change. As a result we have a good understanding of what is working, and what is not working, when it comes to flexible working.

Output over optics

What we have seen is that trust is essential for people to thrive and perform. It is crucial that employers trust their workers to work collaboratively, smartly and imaginatively, ensuring that the priorities and goals are met outside of the constraints of a 9am-5pm structure. At Huckletree, we are less interested in whether a 4-day work week works or doesn’t, and more interested in what people do with their time and energy through their work week, on their own terms. 

As we transition from pandemic-enforced remote working to flexible and hybrid models, it is also clear that whilst more flexibility is required, the need to gather in person remains a key motivator.

Polls frequently show between 70 and 90% of people are keen on a partial return to work, but few mention wanting to sit at the same desk all day. They talk about missing the connection, support and spark that comes from being physically present with their peers.

This means that when people come together, we are providing with what they most miss at home: the opportunity to gather with others in ways that spark ideas, breakthroughs, creativity and fundamentally, connection. Again, this is about listening to your people, and responding to their needs.                

I am privileged to work in an environment that promotes trust, authenticity and flexibility. It has shown me that it is possible to work hard, both at home and in the office, and also make space for personal responsibilities. In my case that means the ability to bring and collect my son from creche – and being open about this! There’s no need for white lies when we need to take time for ourselves. It all comes down to remembering we are human. 

While most companies are offering work from home options and some have already moved to four-day weeks, few have achieved a true “work anywhere, anytime” model that respects individuals’ preferences. By taking a step back and asking big-picture questions around what you’re trying to achieve as an organisation, as well as trusting people to make decisions around their own productivity, we can create environments for people to flourish. 

What’s clear is that the unstructured remote work of the early months of the pandemic was a moment in time that has passed.

The future lies in flexibility, authenticity, openness and trust. 

Aislinn Mahon
Aislinn Mahon is head of Ecosystem at Huckletree D2 in Ireland. Mahon previously worked with Enterprise Ireland, Web Summit and Brandtone, and was a chapter director at Startup Grind.