The future is coming


Future Work, the second edition of Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson’s comprehensive guide to the changing workplace, is a must for the modern business leader’s bookshelf. Written in an engaging and accessible style, it lays bare the business case for flexibility and agility, making it clear that those who opt out are losing ground.

“Tectonic shifts are taking place in the composition of the workforce, and in attitudes in wider society, which demand a response from any organization that wants to secure talent for the future,” they warn.

However, far from advocating an extension of policies and practices for flexible working, they eschew the ‘tinkering at the edges’ approach in favour of deep structural change and a fundamental rethinking of the way work is done and goals are achieved. Instead of rewarding people based on time, the future of work means output-based rewards.

Structural change

Adding a policy or two is not the way to make change: “The trouble is that most cases of flexible working have simply been grafted on to existing management practices without reviewing or changing the underlying model of work and careers,” they say. “This has resulted in an uncomfortable coexistence between traditional management attitudes and pockets of greater flexibility.”

Using a global range of research to back up their assertions, Thomson and Maitland point to the obvious benefits for businesses in untethering work from fixed times and places, such as the property cost savings and retention benefits, however they also highlight the myriad other positives, from environmental benefits to the lower risk of business disruption and increased employee well-being resulting from the gift of autonomy.

There are numerous executive comments and case studies from their exhaustive research and contacts in the field. From Unilever, Credit Suisse to Danish law firm Sirius and even a Sainsbury’s bakery team, there is evidence that this approach has a positive effect on the bottom line.

In their updating, the authors tackle the opting out of Yahoo and other flexibility reversals, but point out that these are exceptions to the rule and provide new case studies in answer. The book is global in scope, with case studies from UK, Europe, US and beyond, plus analysis of national differences in attitudes to flexibility and the need to tread carefully when implementing future work programmes in different places. Likewise they cover a vast range of impacts on the working world, from the changing role of women in society, to men’s increasing determination to be active fathers, the ageing population and Generation Y.

The book also includes a fascinating chapter of case studies of leaders who have flexible schedules – giving an insight into how they make it work and the variety of ways roles can be structured and succeed.

Future challenges

The second edition contains more information on implementation, in recognition of the practical challenges organisations face. Maitland and Thomson also lay down future challenges, such as overcoming the perception that combining career and family is something women struggle with rather than both parents. They point to Scandinavian examples of generous parental leave for mothers and fathers and look forward to a time when flexibility is widely seen as best for business rather than an employee accommodation.

For executives and organisations wary of taking the leap, Future Work makes sobering points about the long-hours culture and the resulting incentive to slow down and actually decrease productivity. However, it is also realistic about the need for motivation and manager training when moving to results-based ways of working.

With clever cartoons by Roger Beale, Future Work gently makes some serious points about traditional work and ways of thinking. Workforce change is coming and reading this book is a good place for organisations to start their preparations. Don’t be left behind.

Categories: Book review, Comment


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