James O'Neill's Blog

October 31, 2007

Sometimes I feel like a woman.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 11:27 am

No. Not like that.  But every time I read about things about “What Women want in the work place”, I find my self saying I want that too !

On Monday I was visiting a customer who, like Microsoft, appears on The Times’ “Where Women want to work” top 50. They had the Times supplement in reception, and while I was waiting I had a chance to leaf through it. Google got called out for their work life balance, although what I read there could equally have applied to Microsoft. DeLoitte got called out for their use of Facebook. (The idea that information workers want to use the same kind of tools in work as they do outside was something I was chatting to my Dad about at the weekend).

Microsoft’s family friendly nature came into play on Tuesday. I like to drop my daughter at school or my son at nursery rather than leaving them both to my wife; because I don’t have to be in the office a 9:00 sharp I can do that, and as a side effect I miss the rush-hour traffic and shorten my journey time. On Tuesday, just after the alarm went off, the power went off as well. This isn’t exactly a rare occurrence (I was grumbling about it this time last year). Normally I’d get some work done before leaving the house, but no power means no Internet connection… We managed to get everyone ready, and I took my daughter to school.

The power cut had killed the heating so the school was closed. Milling round outside the school were quite a few working parents – mostly mums – trying to work out what to do. I can’t work at home without power. I’m going on vacation next week and I’m at tech-ed IT forum the following week so I need to clear the decks this week. So I took my daughter to the office  (calling in at home to pick up some DVDs she could watch on a spare computer). One of things I like about this job is being able to do that, she’s been in before and although at age 7 she feels the “kiddie corner” the restaurant is a bit young for her, lunch at Microsoft is a treat; there’s free hot chocolate on tap, people make a fuss of her she likes being here. On Tuesday I’d planned to go to the on-site Gym, and the people there found somewhere she could sit safely. It’s a nice place to come with your kids.  

My wife’s workplace has things on-site which means they can’t accommodate kids, so it certainly helps us as a family that my workplace can. But  do I read that men, or fathers or more accurately PARENTS want this kind of thing from the work place ? No it’s “What women want”. It’s odd, because in my immediate area in Microsoft there are more women than men, but more fathers than mothers.

The other major thing that leapt off the page when I read the Times report was that one of the factors in their top 50 selection was “an eagerness to embrace new technology to facilitate work-life balance”. That might be more important to women in general than men in general, but “active” fathers value it too. It’s technology that lets me do the overnight e-mail before I leave the house. It’s technology that lets me leave the office by 5 and eat with the family: in my past life in services one boss went berserk when I wrote in my objectives that I wanted be there at breakfast or dinner for my kids 50% of the time (Any time I’m not there for breakfast, should have a balancing occasion where I’m home for dinner): these days it must be running at better than 80%.  

Here’s the wierd thing: I subscribe to the view that Darren says is part of the Millenial generation’s thinking: work is a thing you do, not a place you go.  I’m in the office for less than 30 hours a week I probably work 50+ hours and I’m reachable for over 100 hours. I see this as a good work/life balance. Work does intrude on home life. Home life intrudes on work; but neither intrudes on the other unreasonably.  Wind history back to when my father was my age (and I was the same age as my daughter) he worked fewer hours, wasn’t in touch with people from work at the weekends, but work was more intrusive. A big piece of work meant staying in the office. Last week I was listening to Thomas Lee talking about OCS and he asked the audience “How many of you have better network access from home than the office”. About half the audience did. “Yes”, he said, “and the coffee’s better and the atmosphere’s more conducive to writing.”. Indeed. These days a big piece of work means working at home – oddly that means might I see more of my family when there’s a “crunch” on.

So a plea to those who write about people want in workplace. I’m happy to accept that there are things that women want from their work place which men aren’t bothered about. I’ve written before that ‘a “melting pot” with diverse people bringing different talents and experience strengthens a company, and striving for that strength does a lot more to equalize opportunities than “Equal opportunities” policies found where managers hire people just like themselves’ and that means a excessively masculine (or feminine) style of going about work is usually a bad thing. But Please: Don’t assume that it’s only women who want family friendly working.


Bonus Link Jason linked to Stephen Fry talking about technology in the Grauniad. However Fry’s opening complains ‘In our culture we are becoming more and more fixated with an “it’s one thing or the other” mentality.’ Indeed.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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