Calling ‘In’ Vs. Calling ‘Out’: The Art of Allyship Within Today’s Flexible Workplace

Four-day working weeks, 7am – 3pm hours, and “I’m not available on Tuesdays between 11am – 2pm.” This is what flexible working today looks like today. Flexibility in the workplace enables everyone to better manage the demands of their work and personal lives. However, every so often echoes of the past emerge in the form of flippant comments like: ‘I wish I could just knock off at 3pm. Wouldn’t that be nice!’.

As greater flexibility and hybrid styles of working continue to increase in prevalence and employee expectation, it’s vital that the communities around those who choose this path grow and evolve to support them. A part of that is being able to acknowledge (and educate) colleagues who may not be as supportive of the new working paradigm. This can ensure that company cultures within organisations evolve alongside the increase in flexible working – allowing those who do work flexibly to do so without judgment or fear of being slighted.

To do this, workplaces need to maintain a careful balance between proactive allyship with those who are working flexibly by sensitively challenging those who might instinctively or historically be less understanding of those choices.

This is where ‘calling in’ can be helpful.

What is ‘Calling In’?

Calling someone out is the act of publicly shaming them for behaviour that is deemed socially unacceptable. This approach can be alienating, and can make people fearful of speaking up.

Calling in, meanwhile, is done privately and with respect – and is more conducive to collective growth. Calling out assumes the worst of people, whereas calling in involves compassion, context and conversation.

The key point about the types of conversations that are needed when a colleague is struggling to understand, appreciate and/or support those workmates who want (or need) to work more flexibly is that they are learning opportunities.

Calling in involves three steps:

  1. Acknowledge that the person you are calling in is a valued colleague.
  2. Acknowledge that the views they are expressing could potentially cause a culture to develop where people working flexibly could be alienated and marginalised.
  3. Explain why it’s important that this behaviour stops.

Here is an example of how this could be handled – in a private space:

‘I know you like to be as productive as possible and I really admire your dedication, but if you don’t mind me asking, what is it about XXX not being online on Fridays frustrates you? Is there a way around it? I think it’s important that we support one another’s working arrangements so that everyone can find the right work-life balance, do you?’

Why ‘Calling In’ is More Effective Than ‘Calling Out’

Calling In aims to help the person you are calling in to think about their views and the effect it can have on others. Often, the negative views we hold are caused by unconscious bias, and by being asked to examine these views, we can more easily challenge and evolve them. Because calling in comes from a place of acknowledgement of a wider respect for the person who you’re talking to, they’re more likely to perceive the conversation as you are addressing certain behaviours you don’t like, rather than it being them you don’t like. But also, it can be the start of a really useful conversation in which you and they have the opportunity to learn.

It’s important to bear in mind that people questioning the flexible working arrangements that others have, be that in fewer days, fewer hours or different hours, may believe they have a legitimate reason for doing so.

Perhaps they believe it creates more work for them. Perhaps they believe it affects the services the company provides. They may think the flexible worker is ‘having their cake and eating it’. These views are important to bring to light and discuss, and ‘calling in’ can help with this. It’s important for the person whose behaviours or comments you are addressing to understand more about why people work flexibly. They may have young children or caring responsibilities for older relatives. They may be studying part-time or even simply wanting to have time to pursue interests and hobbies.

The key thing for someone criticising someone else’s flexible working arrangements to understand is that one day it could be them, their partner, friend or child who wants or needs those same arrangements. So, it would be in their and the wider best interest to help facilitate a supportive culture for that. Additionally, it will help build understanding that even if they themselves might not want to work flexibly, the company would be missing out on the valuable skills and expertise that flexible workers bring to the table if the culture was not supportive.

In the end, a culture of mutual respect for everyone is going to result in a more productive and happier organisation where each individual can thrive. And ‘calling in’ can be a powerful instrument to help achieve that.

Note: While in this article we have used ‘calling in’ to address workplace culture and flexible working, it’s important to note that ‘calling in’ is a communication model that can be used in many aspects of life. For example, the Mayor of London’s most recent campaign ‘Say maaate’ uses ‘calling in’ to help educate men and provide the tools to tackle derogatory behaviour towards women amongst their peers.