Shakespeare in Lockdown – The Bard on Flexible Working

Words poignant today as they were then

There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their lives is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures. Brutus, Julius Caesar.

Tis said that, when a dreadful plague was ravaging the land, Shakespeare pulled himself together in lockdown to write some of the most riveting drama in human history. Penning plays that are performed, scrutinized and translated worldwide hundreds of years later is a truly remarkable use of self-quarantining – and one which we should not pressurize ourselves to emulate.

But the words of Brutus ring true in our own situation. Coronavirus, a modern day form of pestilence, is a tide in the affairs of men that has wreaked havoc in families, society and the economy. How would we cope?

Some employers believed that flexible working was impossible, perhaps in a way that some people were once convinced that the earth was flat. Both theories are now disproved. The earth is round and we can work flexibly.

In fact, we are not just flexing now, but may well carry on with it. Twitter, Amazon and Facebook have all announced continued flex working post-coronavirus. Other employers, even the most traditional such as City institutions, are considering homeworking as part of long-term employment plans. We are afloat on a vast sea of flex working of a kind that many assumed would never happen.

The trouble is that we are also afloat in a freak storm, map-less, with sails ripped asunder and a broken rudder – whilst also trying to home educate and run a short-order café for fussy eaters from the galley kitchen.

Nobody would ever plan the voyage of their lives in this frantic and bizarre manner. What we are seeing is flex at its most chaotic – exhausted, isolated, over-burdened, dystopian and with laundry in the background.

All these aspects provide excuses as to why flex is a bad choice and why we must scuttle back to soul-sucking commutes and expensive rental space. Things can be managed so much better, but it will take effort and commitment. We need reliable technology and training in how to use it to best advantage. We need agile management and careful planning. And we need to see vibrant leadership to make this happen.

What has started haphazardly can nonetheless be steadied. The flex current is strong for change, for surging forward, for new horizons and ventures. It is tempting for employers to return to the familiar harbour of the way it was done before, asa ship in harbour is always safe. But that’s not what ships are for.

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