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Balancing Act: The Face-Time Faceoff in Modern Offices

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By Cindy Krischer Goodman

(MCT)—It’s a blue-sky day in South Florida, and Erik Bortzfield, a software marketing manager, would love to be oceanside on a beach chair, connected to the Internet via laptop and air card. A year out of college, Bortzfield, 23, has discovered the rules of the workplace typically don’t allow remote working, but he is convinced his generation will make it happen.

“When people my age start to own and manage companies, I think you’ll start to see a noticeable change,” he says.

The desire to work wherever, whenever, has heated once again during the summer months as younger workers want to kick back a bit but find their baby-boomer bosses clinging to an old-fashioned preference for face time.

It’s not that Bortzfield and his young counterparts across the country don’t see value in coming to the office some of the time. But because they are networked, they believe reporting to an office from 9 to 5 every day in order to call and send emails to people in other places makes absolutely no sense. Many are asking, “Why are bosses insisting on face time?” — and planning for the day when they will make the office rules.

Millennials — a group now roughly between ages 22 and 30 — will be change-makers, says Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding. By 2025, Generation Y will make up roughly 75 percent of the world’s workforce, a Business and Professional Women’s Foundation study shows. With such a large presence, expect them to put pressure on companies to shift how people work, Schawbel said: “Gen Y wants to rip apart work styles and create new relationships with the office that are more flexible.”

Amanda DelPrete, a 24-year-old public-relations account executive, said her generation wants to use the technology advantage. In college, she and her friends took one or more courses online or sat in their dorms watching the live stream. “It was not mandatory for us to be physically in class,” she says. “Now, we come into the workplace and there’s an insistence on face time, and we don’t get it. We’re more creative in our own space than in an office with no windows.”

Leadership consultant Jane Goldner says “overwork” also has fueled this generational conflict. When workers are expected to finish a project from home at midnight, they wonder why they aren’t permitted to complete other assignments from home during daylight hours. But older managers still put a high value on being seen in the office. They not only expect face time; they reward those who hang out in the office.

Goldner says boomer bosses trying to lead this new chaotic environment and still keep a handle on things will need to find a middle ground acceptable to all. Rather than just insist on face time, they will need to explain why it is important. “Without it, you might not be building the alliances you need to get ahead.” Even more, she adds: “When you work virtually, you don’t development face-to-face interpersonal skills. That’s a huge skill set missing in the workplace.”

Lizanne Thomas, partner in charge of law firm Jones Day’s Atlanta office, says she’s made a specific effort this summer to work with law school interns and young associates on communication skills honed from personal interaction with partners. “I don’t want them to hide behind email or the written word. I want them to interact with me.”

Thomas said she has made a clear case for face time and doesn’t want lawyers to habitually work from home. “Work product is enriched by collaboration. You have to noodle it and discuss it face to face.”

While the firm does offer flexibility for certain circumstances, Thomas said, “I would not expect the lawyer who wants to advance successfully to routinely choose to work from home or the local Starbucks.”

Richard Fleites, an information technology professional, believes the generational conflict over face time remains a trust issue. There remains a belief that if you’re not in the office, you’re napping or downing martinis during business hours, he says. His department at a health care organization has just revised its flexibility policy — allowing remote working one day a week rather than three. “It was disappointing because I think they got scared that employees were going to slack off. But at least I still have that one day, and that’s a big perk.”

Sorraya M. Solages, a 34-year-old attorney with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says some workers new to the legal profession believe the insistence on face time is all about older lawyers who don’t want to give younger lawyers a break. She’s discovered getting the flexibility is possible — but it has to be earned. She’s worked from libraries, hotel rooms and courtrooms rather than return to her office. But she’s proved her value.

“You’re not going to start Day 1 and work from home one morning a week. If you become trusted, you get more flexibility.”

By understanding Gen Y-ers’ need for workplace flexibility, companies are better able to recruit and grow young talent for the future, workplace experts say. Adam Shapiro, a Miami attorney, says he’s much happier as a lawyer at United Auto Insurance Company, where he can work from the courthouse or home at times, rather than at a big law firm, where the emphasis on face time at the office during and after hours was much greater.

Meanwhile, Bortzfield, the software marketing manager, looks forward to the day when he’s the boss: “If it’s the nicest day of all time, I’m going to say, ‘Everyone work from home or wherever today. Let me know if you need anything.’ ”

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life.

©2012 The Miami Herald
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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