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Embracing boundaryless working in the new normal

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/bikeriderlondon)

Enate, a Cheltenham-based SaaS company, successfully moved the entire team to remote working shortly before the Government-enforced lockdown in March. As this starts to feel more ‘normal’, Kit Cox, CEO of Enate, considers the new, boundaryless work environment.

As the months go by and more of us are adapting to our new working-from-home environments and routines, Kit Cox, CEO of Enate talks 'Boundaryless 101' - from what it really means, to how businesses can harness it to empower staff, and how to manage the virtual workload with so many unknowns.

Back in April, in 'Expecting the unexpected', I talked about how quickly the workforce has had to adapt to a new way of working. We were all uncertain at that time as to how long the lockdown would last, and whether the virus could be controlled. As things start to improve, and normality is very slowly starting to return, it is important to think about some of the more positive things we want to keep doing.

 One of those things is our new-found work freedom, or 'boundaryless working'. But what do we really mean by 'boundaryless', and how can this truly benefit businesses and employees?

Well, as I speak, I am writing this where there aren’t any boundaries, in a beautiful rural hillside location in the Cotswolds.

‘Boundaryless’ simply means you can work anywhere, something that many of us have experienced since the start of the lockdown – the boundaries around where we work suddenly just disappeared overnight. At Enate, the entire team has been working remotely since early March, and as the lockdown eased we have even run a competition for staff to run a business meeting from the coolest place they can find and photograph it.

Pros and cons of the old 9-5

If all I need to work is my knowledge, an internet connection, and a laptop – then why should work put a boundary around where my internet connection and laptop appear in the world? Also, when we work is another boundary that has had to change. This has changed because it had to change. Many of us with children ended up with new 'second jobs' when the schools closed and home-schooling and childcare suddenly became our new normal. In my case my hours have altered as I am managing childcare duties on the days my wife, who is a doctor, is at work. But we still have to do our other jobs around it, if we’re lucky enough to be able to do our jobs remotely.

With the '9 -5' no longer being a strict boundary comes a series of pros and cons. It's great to fit work around your life – but what’s not quite so great is that it is very easy for work to take up every other moment of time that you’re not doing one or the other fundamental chores - to resist that urge to quickly finish something, check your email or make a quick call. So, we must be mindful and ensure that, as the boundaries come down, we don’t expect work to be all-consuming.

Also, what we DO has changed. When we went into lockdown, the team had to start managing different workloads because some of our colleagues have been sick. And, unfortunately, that will continue to be the case for many businesses, and probably for the next few years. As a result, we are going to need to be on standby to pick up and take over from colleagues if they aren’t able to do what they need to do. So the boundaries surrounding who does what is likely to continue to blur. It had to blur on a massive scale when the world first went into lockdown, as entire service centers and groups of workers weren’t kitted out for boundaryless. As we have seen, many had to work from home without warning, and actually couldn’t work properly. If we’re going to embrace 'boundaryless', and let’s face it, nothing too bad has come from this new working arrangement, we have to be comfortable in picking up some work that isn't our absolute sweet spot.

Working without boundaries

Being prepared for boundaryless working is about being prepared for the boundaries to shift.  From an individual's perspective, it is about being mentally geared up to switch roles quickly. From a business perspective, it’s about making sure that you as an organization are physically geared up for switching where people work, and supporting people in choosing where and how they want to work. It means as an organization you have to be much more flexible in how you manage work to your staff. Businesses now have a very flexible pool of staff who shouldn’t be working ‘regular’ shifts anymore – and you’ve also got a flexible pool of demand. To enable a business to marry that demand to the team in real-time – well, that’s a capability and a technology that you need to have in your kit bag to support boundaryless.

Our customers who seamlessly moved to remote working when the crisis happened were those who had already gone through the process of making themselves resilient for it, preparing for it with Enate's support. The best organizations were prepared to be resilient, not just in technology infrastructure, but in their team management infrastructure, in their management practices, in the management technology available to team leaders and managers. It’s important to facilitate resilience in the people, to feel empowered and take ownership of their work environment and when they work. Building that resilience and empowerment is how we create the foundation stones for a boundaryless work future.

For many of us, working without those boundaries is going to be here to stay. I’ve already had conversations with people in my team who’ve said, ‘actually, I’d quite like to go and live in Cornwall’, and my response is, ‘it’s a fabulous part of the UK, go for it!’. It has almost no difference to the day-to-day ability for them to do their job and to work with their team.

Kit Cox, CEO, Enate