Rapid advances in communications technology, including social media, are shifting the balance of power in societies at many levels and enabling a revolution in when, where and how we work.
As we document in our new book, Future Work, a growing number of organisations in both public and private sectors are realising that it pays to treat employees as adults, give them the tools and trust them to get on with the job, rewarding output rather than hours spent at work. Instead of telling staff “Do it this way”, they are saying: “Do it the way that works best”.
Innovating how work is done, and making best use of mobile technology, can increase workers’ productivity, cut costs and improve customer service and speed to market. It is also a great way for businesses to attract and retain the skills they need and to benefit from greater staff motivation.
Many employers are still stuck with an industrial age mentality that expects employees to work the same fixed hours in the same location, under the watchful eye of management. Instead of using technology to make work more efficient and free up people’s time, they have simply pasted it on top of the old model. Employees are increasingly expected to be “always on”, with all the stress that entails.
Powerful forces necessitate a new approach. As well as globalisation and climate change, major demographic and social shifts demand a response. Increased life expectancy is lengthening our working years and pushing back retirement. Women are entering the workforce in equal numbers as men but still face significant barriers to senior jobs. Many men, especially younger men, want to be able to play an equal role in parenthood.
We did an international survey of managers to find out what kind of culture makes some organisations more open to the benefits of new ways of working, such as remote working. The most responsive cultures appear to be those that are democratic and collaborative, trust and empower their people, value their creativity, and reward outcomes rather than face-time and presence.
Work is already becoming more of a tradable commodity, as the internet matches people who need work with those who can supply it. More independent contractors and freelancers are bidding for work online and being paid by results. Given the growing range of employment models, companies that want to attract the best talent in the future will have to offer the autonomy of self-employment along with the relative security and development opportunities of employment.
The best examples of future work happening now show that it can contribute to the bottom line while improving the lives of workers and helping to protect the environment. Organisations at the leading edge told us they are doing it to stay competitive. They see it as a matter of business survival. Are the rest ready for the challenge?
Alison Maitland is a co-author with Peter Thomson of Future Work: How Businesses can Adapt and Thrive in the New World of Work. For more details about the book, please visit, www.futureworkbook.com