Flexible working: An inevitability; not a possibility – 3 global forces reshaping our workplaces

The move to flexible workplaces is not a management fad or just a new way of dressing up old, ‘open plan’ office space.

The development and ongoing adoption of flexible working arrangements, by organisations big and small, is an inevitable consequence of the impact of three global forces reshaping the way we work.

These three global forces are:

  • technology
  • nature of work
  • where and how we work

Global forces #1 – Technology

Remember when the best and latest technology was the equipment you used at work.  The 286, the 386 and then the 486 or even a Pentium computer.  Your first mobile phone was almost certainly a work provided tool.

These new technologies were all work based as the workplace was the leading edge of the personal, digital revolution.

Contrast that to now, where work is where you have to use the worst technology.  Your home PC or Mac is faster, your personal mobile is better than the work provided one and you can’t even use your tablet at work!

Maybe not that bad, but the fact remains – personal computing is now a consumer electronic product, not a workplace tool.

The merging of workplace technology and our personal technology is here to stay and is set to continue.  How long before the workplace can monitor our health? Well, now actually.

Mobile devices can measure the time we spend sitting, standing or walking. It won’t be much longer before that technology is embedded within our workplace.

Technology has become more personal, more flexible and a part of our whole lives, not just our work lives.

Global forces #2- The nature of work

A job for life. 30 years’ service. A stable workforce.

These are all baby boomer terms. Work is becoming commoditised, casual and flexible.

Remember how many people worked permanent part time or casual, or worked for themselves 10 years ago? I now have some clients where the majority of their teams are part-time rather than full-time.

The workforce of one, with everyone contracting their labour, is not so farfetched.

Sites like Expert 36O, UpWork, Guru, Freelancer, Elance, and SquareSpace (the list goes on and on) are having a strong influence in the nature of modern work arrangements. They offer the ability to contract specialists on an hourly, daily or project basis. Work too is becoming more flexible, less structured and commoditised.

Global forces # 3 – Where and how we work

The need for flexible work spaces is then, I argue, an inevitable consequence of the shift in the way we work, the technology we use and the way we live our lives.

Flexible workplaces are not just, open–plan, hot-desking, co-working, tele-commuting or ABW – although a flexible workplace may have all of these.

Flexible working is about providing the flexibility for people to work in different ways, for different tasks and in different situations.

That might be working from home, an airport, client’s office, a coffee shop or the beach.  It’s about harnessing the use of technology to free up the way we work; not about being a slave to the technology.

[Check out the RSA’s video, Re-Imagining Work, where Microsoft’s Dave Coplin imagines what organisations could be like if they fully embraced technology and the flexible and collaborative culture technology encourages.]

“So if a flexible workplace can mean working in a variety of situations why do we have to have these flexible workspaces?”

Because,

  • after staff costs, property costs are the second biggest costs for a knowledge based organisation, and
  • the average workplace is vacant 40% of the working day!

No business, public or private can remain competitive (efficient) when the workplace is so poorly utilised. Imagine any asset of production in any other business that is only used at 60% capacity.

The combination of the changes occurring in work and technology with the financial pressures to do more with less are not going away. They are increasing.

That’s why I say that flexible working or ABW or whatever you call it, is an inevitability not a possibility.

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