According to Peter Thomson, businesses are still employing Industrial Age labor techniques in the Information Age. In a world of networked individuals and self-employed entrepreneurs, organizations are nonetheless operated as hierarchical command systems. We are currently in the midst of the Information Revolution, causing significant changes in how we live and work. The difference is that this revolution is bringing as much change in a decade as the previous revolution did in a century. The key factors driving this tsunami of change, according to Thomson, are flexible/smart working and the growing need for work/life balance and job satisfaction. Nothing less than a revolution in management methods is required for this transition to succeed.
In the history of work, we are at a fascinating crossroads. Working methods from the Industrial Age, which have been in use for the past 200 years, coexist with contemporary Information Age labor patterns. In a world of networked individuals and self-employed entrepreneurs, organizations are nonetheless operated as hierarchical command systems.
The last transformation of this scale took decades and generations to achieve. Work slowly moved from farms to factories throughout the Industrial Revolution, changing the face of civilization. We are currently in the midst of the Information Revolution, which brings about equally significant changes in our lives and work. The difference is that this revolution is bringing as much change in a decade as the previous revolution did in a century. As a result, existing businesses continue to use twentieth-century working patterns (with, in some cases, nineteenth-century management processes).
New Working Patterns
Even the most casual observer of work patterns may see how technology has revolutionized our ability to do a wide range of jobs. We may now send and receive emails from anywhere globally, participate in meetings from across the globe, and communicate with our coworkers via several social media platforms. We can access all of the documents from our “office” without ever having to leave the house, and we can stay up to date on the newest advancements in our profession without having to attend numerous conferences or meetings.
Despite our capacity to work from anywhere and at any time, we are nonetheless bound by the routines established by past generations of employees. For the most part, the “norm” in the workplace is to have a job with a fixed location and a set of hours to be there. We give employees a wage, provide benefits, and provide a sense of financial stability in exchange for showing up and performing a job description. However, this is rapidly being recognized as a low-productivity paradigm unsatisfying for employees and ineffective for employers.
We are now entering a workforce with a generation of young people who have never known a world without the internet. They expect to be able to communicate with their coworkers from anywhere and at any time. They cannot comprehend the typical separation of home and work life and the necessity of being confined to a permanent desk to complete tasks. They are questioning the long-hour culture and the “presenteeism” work style that earlier generations have inherited. They also value their independence and expect to control where they work in their lives.
To meet the expectations of the younger workforce, just introducing some part-time work to satisfy parental demands is no longer sufficient. They expect to have some control over how they work, whether or not they have care obligations. They are accustomed to having options in their daily life. They have access to shopping and entertainment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are capable of making mature decisions about their weekend activities. On weekdays, though, they are regarded as children. They will most likely be disciplined if they do not arrive on time (even though they are expected to travel to their workplace at the most congested time of day).
Working from home is seen as an exception. “Presenteeism” rules and people who are out of sight can easily get forgotten.
To address the demands of the workforce, several firms have implemented flexible working arrangements. Typically, these start with a fixed working day and allow modifications to add some flexibility to the work schedule. Working from home or a satellite office, for example, is considered an exemption. As a result, the “core hours” concept in the office is still alive and well. “Presenteeism” reigns supreme, and those who are out of sight are prone to be forgotten. Managers have a hard time knowing what their employees are up to when they can’t see them, and they frequently assume they aren’t as dedicated as those who come into the office.
“Flexible working” is often an H.R. policy implemented to benefit employees who have family obligations. It is frequently related to maternity leave and is intended to accommodate persons who cannot work “regular” hours. As a result, it does not attract genuine career-minded employees. They are still enslaved by the long-hour culture that ruled the twentieth century and has seeped into the twenty-first.
All of that, however, is about to change.
Employers will have to fundamentally rethink their approach to work as we emerge from a global crisis and move toward a lack of vital skills. According to a growing body of studies, people are already choosing to change occupations to enhance their work/life balance. Employees with scarce abilities are no longer satisfied by a large salary package. They understand that time is just as valuable as money. As a result, they will be drawn to workplaces where employees are expected to have a personal life and not give up their freedom in the name of advancement.
In the age of “smart” working, the new approach to work involves a shift in control from employer to employee.
The new way of working implies a shift in power from the employer to the employee. Individuals are in charge of their own time in the age of “smart” working. They choose when and where they work, and their supervisor trusts them to do so. There is no reason to believe that work can only be done during the regular daytime shift at the average job. Many people, mainly paid for their creativity, work the best outside of normal working hours. Why should we force individuals to work when they are at their most inefficient?
The most challenging obstacle for managers is switching from monitoring inputs (hours worked) to measuring outputs (achieving outcomes). The time and place of the activity are almost unimportant if the basis of recognition for work is what is done. There will be limits on when and where work can be done in many occupations, but these do not have to be imposed by a boss. When someone is trusted to decide how a project should be done, they will know the restrictions and operate within them.
As a result, the old version of flexible working (a gift from management) is being replaced with agile working methods, in which individuals have genuine autonomy over their work schedule. This isn’t just a change in the employment contract; it’s a shift in the culture of the workplace. It entails a shift away from a command-and-control approach and toward a leadership style that empowers and trusts individuals to get the job done. It indicates that employees are viewed as adults capable of making decisions that balance their demands with their interests.
Many employers are currently embarking on this path from rigid work schedules to very flexible employment arrangements. Leaders are now implementing results-only measurement methods and autonomous working arrangements that provide staff a lot of autonomy. Others are trailing behind, with differing degrees of “agility” and levels of empowerment for their people. But, regardless of where they are on their journey, they are all traveling in the same direction.
In the same name book, Alison Maitland and I decided on the title “Future Work.”
This shows our progress toward a future work model fully fitted to the twenty-first century’s social, technological, and economic pressures. Many firms will struggle to adapt to this transformation because it disrupts conventional power structures and management systems. Some middle managers’ jobs are in jeopardy, and many of the trappings of power and status in hierarchical structures are being eroded.
During our research for the book, we came across several examples of new ways of working. Due to the vision of their CEOs, several companies, such as W.L. Gore and Semco have been able to implement fundamentally innovative ideas. Others, like IBM, Vodafone, and Cisco, have leveraged their technology to help people shift. And we found a few that were well on their way, with positive results on their bottom lines.
We are moving towards a future model adapted to the twenty-first century’s social, technological, and economic influences.
Ryan, a multinational tax services organization, is one such example. Employees can work from anywhere as long as the task is completed using their MyRyan software. There are no time limits, no location restrictions, and no set schedules. Delta Emerson, now chief of staff, “the results are outstanding,” as recounted in Future Work. “In recent years, we have received over 100 workplace quality awards, including the coveted Fortune’ Great Place to Work’ title in both the United States and Canada. Ryan employees value flexibility, and it has helped us become a “talent magnet” and cut attrition. Client happiness and revenue, two other important measures for any CEO, have risen dramatically. Flexibility is a business necessity, not a luxury.’
The Future Is Here
Leading companies have already embraced this new way of working. We found several examples of companies in the book Future Work who have recognized that the command and control mentality of the past is no longer relevant. They are experiencing benefits where they have implemented “smart working” or “agile working” schemes as a business strategy and transformed their leadership culture. On the other hand, those executives who have only given lip service to new ways of working and have not changed their culture may find themselves with disgruntled personnel and low productivity.
It needs strong leadership from the top to eliminate some hierarchical procedures and replace them with a flatter structure. Managers must act following the company’s new ideas and aggressively empower their staff. Unilever is one example of this that we use throughout the book. Around the last few years, they’ve introduced entirely new ways of working to their businesses worldwide. Their Agile Working program, which began in late 2009 and is based on the following principles:
- All employees are free to work at any time and from any location as long as the company’s demands are met.
- Leaders must set an example by working in an agile manner.
- Results, not time and attendance, drive performance—each employee has a customized work plan that identifies intended outcomes and how they will be monitored.
- Travel should be avoided if at all possible.
- Managers are evaluated on how successfully they assist agile staff on an annual basis, and this factor is factored into the variable component of their remuneration.
- Senior executives must set an example by implementing “Agile Working” principles, technology, and facilities. Around 20% of senior management jobs are “location-free,” meaning that the executive can work from anywhere in the world. People have been trained on the commercial benefits of virtual teams, working and interacting remotely, and managing and being a part of virtual teams.
The Virtual Workplace
Once the link between employment and a specific location is severed, a plethora of prospective workplaces emerges. Some people may find it more convenient to work from home part of the time. It can be incredibly fruitful where it fits into people’s personal lives and job responsibilities. People report considerable improvements in productivity per hour spent at home vs. a noisy office, in addition to saving time and avoiding the stress of a daily drive.
Most vocations, however, require interaction with others. Some of this is being replaced by technology, but people will still need to get together and share ideas. Videoconferencing or online discussion forums will be used to replace some meetings. Remote teams will benefit from the use of social media to establish rapport. However, actual meeting space will continue to be required. As a result, the future office will accommodate people who want to meet together and use some desk space on a “drop-in” basis. People can move throughout the building depending on the task they’re working on in an activity-based workspace.
However, the just-in-time approach to work raises the question of whether permanent space is essential. Why have the overheads of a permanent structure if meeting space or flexible office space can be rented by the hour or day? Many people’s workplaces are a mix of multi-user hub offices, rented space in a Regus-style serviced office, and a table at the local coffee shop, with the occasional day at home thrown in. As long as they have access to the internet, the genuinely mobile worker’s office is wherever they are.