Businesses need to think more radically than simply enabling flexible working requests if they are to tackle the challenges of the changing world of work.
That’s according to a report published by flexibility.co.uk last week. It’s work but not as we know it, authored by Andy Lake and Tim Dwelly, argues that businesses should move away from 20th century factory models of work organisation to realise the benefits of agile working.
Lake told delegates at a conference for the report’s launch that there is a transformation going on in the workplace. Two big shifts in the labour market in the last decade are the rise of part-time working and growth in home-based working, dominated by people running businesses from home. In the UK there has been a 32% increase in home-based working since 2001.
“There is a view that part-time work is not ‘proper’ work but actually that’s what people want to do,” he said. “Most people in these different forms of work are happy with it.”
Lake added that it is becoming increasingly unclear where the ‘workplace’ is, with people working in a variety of places at different times. He questioned whether workplaces are optimised for flexibility, mobility and ‘virtuality’ and said employers need to make the work spaces interesting and equipped for the tasks employees do there.
Changing technology, contractual relationships and demographics are making flexibility a bigger part of the work landscape, says the report. It also suggests advancing technology and robotics will change workplaces – meaning fewer workers on site in factories and, warehouses and primary industries as well as the decline of the desk, keyboard and mouse.
“What does it mean for the design of offices if people are talking or gesturing to computers?” said Lake.
The possibilities for businesses are significant, and firms should embrace ‘spaceless growth’ – making use of flexibility to grow without increasing overheads and office space. Lake adds that government organisations should also cut their reliance on paper and adopt remote collaboration techniques, saving travel for when face to face contact adds real value.
“A flexible approach to workplace in government should include much more working in the field, alongside citizens, sharing of workplaces on a routine basis by different departments, agencies and authorities, working from home and from workhubs,” says the report.
In addition, it makes recommendations on public planning of infrastructure, communities and development. The report points to the need to ensure high speed broadband access is widely available, communities adapt to increasing home working, and travel is reduced.
“Legislation in many countries supports people in requesting flexible workstyles. The problem is that such policies are based on the idea of ‘flexibility as exceptional’. This needs to evolve towards an approach of ‘flexibility as normal’.
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