Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Long hours mean low productivity

The UK remains consistently near the top of the working hours league and well down the productivity table.  Maybe there is a connection?

A recent survey from Morgan McKinley showed that 84% of respondents work beyond their contracted hours. And it's not just the odd extra hour. 27% work between 6 and 9 hours more per week and a further 31% work 10 hours or more over their official working time.

The survey disproves the theory that these are all keen and willing workers putting in the extra time happily. Three quarters of them say they are obligated or very obligated to work the long hours. This reflects corporate cultures that are encouraging these work patterns.

Not surprisingly, 47% say the extra hours have a heavy impact on their work-life balance. Only 18% always take their full allocated lunch break and 34% never take a full break. 76% eat their lunch at their desk and just 6% use the time to take exercise.

But after a long day at the office it doesn't stop. 78% of respondents sometimes or always work from a mobile device after leaving the office at the end of the day. So employers should be benefiting from all the extra effort. However, only a third of those working extra hours feel they are more productive.

Maybe we need to move from presenteeism and low productivity to managing by output and results-based rewards. When asked 'What would make your working day easier?' the top answer (52%) was flexible working. Are leaders listening to this, or are they turning a blind eye to the problem and making it worse by setting a bad example themselves?

Friday, March 04, 2016

Mobile working will reach tipping point next year

The Work Foundation have just produced a fascinating report on mobile working. They have trawled through a wide range of existing literature and surveyed over 500 managers across the UK to build up a picture of the extent of mobile working today and the way it is headed over the next few years.

Their survey showed that mobile working was the norm by 2014 for over one third of the individual respondents and over one third of the organisations they worked in. Over half will have adopted this way of working by 2017 which is why they describe this as a 'tipping point' beyond which the phenomenon becomes unstoppable. They also predict that by 2020, 70% of both individuals and organisations will have adopted mobile working.

Over half of the managers surveyed said they get more done through mobile working. 49% said they felt trusted and 41% felt empowered. Interestingly, only 24% said they felt disconnected from their team. Three quarters of managers said implementing flexible working will be a challenge for their organisation, with 84% saying performance management changes will be needed and 82% citing the need for changes to employment terms and conditions.

The report lists improved productivity, employee well-being, talent acquisition & retention and reduced accommodation costs as clear reasons for businesses to embrace flexibility. However, survey respondents overwhelmingly identified the HR burden and manager challenges inherent in the transition.

Their advice in adopting a strategy for mobile working is that leadership is critical. Organisational culture is pivotal in addressing the barriers and trust is key to successful implementation. People policies need to change and careful planning is essential.

Whist none of these conclusions are a surprise, it's good to see a well researched report reinforcing the message that mobile working is here to stay and that organisations need to wake up to the fact that flexible forms of working are rapidly becoming the norm.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Zero Hours contracts - here to stay

The CIPD have recently issued a research report on zero-hours and short-hours contracts. It makes interesting reading. It should certainly be studied by all those people criticising these flexible working arrangements and calling for more legislation or even an outright ban.

The government's Labour Force Survey shows that the number of people on zero-hours contracts has almost tripled in less than three years. Although some of this may just be greater public awareness of these arrangements it does look like they are growing in popularity. And that is not just popularity with employers. Employees like them as well.

People who want to fit work around the rest of their lives appreciate the flexibility of these arrangements. Not surprisingly, they are more positive than other employees about their work-life balance. But they are also slightly more satisfied with their jobs and feel less pressured than employees on the whole. So, far from being exploited, they are happy with the arrangements.

The most common reason for using zero-hours contracts is 'to manage fluctuations in demand' (mentioned by 66% of employers). But this is closely followed by 'provide flexibility for the individual' (51%). This shows that these contracts are a way of delivering flexibility for the individual not just the organisation. And it's not all about saving money. Reducing costs is a specific objective for just 21% of employers.

The CIPD concludes: "An outright ban on zero-hours contracts could do more harm than good... Employers with little concern for their employees’ well-being could simply change contracts to
guarantee a very small minimum number of hours or replace zero- hours contracts with casual labour.
The best way to improve the working lives of the zero-hours contract workforce is to help employers understand why they need to develop flexible and fair working practices and how to implement them."

It seems that we have found a working relationship that works well for employers AND employees. It may be open to abuse, but let's not deny the majority the benefit of a flexible working relationship they enjoy, in order to curb the few cases of exploitation.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Webinars versus Seminars

It struck me as slightly ironic that I'm involved in organising a workshop, based in London, on the subject of agile and remote working. If we are now in the age of webinars instead of seminars and YouTube recordings instead of live presentations, why are we running a physical event. Why not a virtual one?

That made me think. Why do we go to football matches when you can get a better view on TV? Why do people go to the cinema when they can watch the film in the comfort of their home? Why go to the pub if you can get a beer out of the fridge?

It's all about socialising. We like sharing experiences with other people, chatting and enjoying their company. We can do some of this by social media but there is no substitute for face to face communications. Going out for a meal with someone else is a very different experience to sitting in a restaurant on your own, even though you get to enjoy the same food.

So a seminar/workshop/conference has to be a worthwhile experience for the participant, not just sitting and listening to speakers. I can do that by looking at TED talks on YouTube without leaving my desk or TV. I want to be able to interact with the other people in the room, sharing ideas and learning from each other. I often reckon the best parts of some events are the coffee and lunch breaks where you happen to meet someone interesting. But this shouldn't be down to accident, there should be interaction designed in.

When we thought about the kind of event we wanted to run in November we realised it had to be one that was a learning experience. We resisted the temptation to come up with a list of impressive sounding speakers and decided to run the day between three of us. We've kept the number of people to a maximum of 24 so we could give everyone a chance to contribute. And to give real individual attention we added a telephone follow-up session to help with action plans.

To find out more about this workshop go to It's going to be unique!


Saturday, August 08, 2015

Building a productive workforce

Productivity has been in the headlines recently. The government is trying to improve the performance of the country in the league tables and various bodies have come out with reports on how this can be achieved. One of them is ACAS.

Its 50 page report “Building Productivity in the UK” focuses on the workplace as the place where “the elements of productivity come together to deliver goods and services.’  They say “How businesses manage and organise their workforce has a huge influence on delivering the improvements that the country needs.” -very true!

This will be a key theme at the Wisework/Workpond workshop being run in November , “Building a high performance productive workforce”. (More information here).

Here are some more points from the ACAS report:
In 2013, UK productivity was an estimated 17% lower than the G7 average
Ineffective management is estimated to cost UK businesses over £19billion per year on lost working hours
Employees reporting higher levels of control over their work had high levels of job related contentment, enthusiasm and satisfaction
Best practice management development can result in a 23% increase in organisational performance

So it seems that giving people more autonomy over their working practices is likely to improve their productivity. This comes out in numerous case studies and on research into engagement. Since this is what management gurus have been saying for the last 50 years it should come as no surprise.

Making this happen is the challenge.  Getting managers to change their habits from ‘command and control’ to ‘trust and empower’ isn’t always easy. The workshop in November will tackle this by helping the participants build an action plan for their own organisation and they will get follow-on support after the event.

Let’s hope this adds a small contribution to the productivity drive for the UK as a whole.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Reinventing Work for the Digital Age

I recently had the pleasure of speaking in Boston at the USA launch of a new book “Reinventing the Company in the Digital Age”. The book was put together by the Spanish bank, BBVA as part of their Open Mind project (see

This was a great opportunity to reflect on how organisations are changing “in the Digital Age”. It’s easy to think of this as just being the impact of technology on the way we carry out our tasks. In fact the Digital Age is as much a social change as it is a technological revolution in the way we work.

Take the example of social media. This has revolutionised the way some people communicate with their friends and colleagues. They share views, express opinions, join in discussions, send congratulations and celebrate life’s achievements without the physical constraints of the “Analogue Age”. They are using the internet to cut through the barriers of time and distance to share experiences with others and make real friends.

So it’s hardly surprising to find that the “Facebook Generation” are much more comfortable than their predecessors in expressing their views through blogs, discussion forums and video clips. They can see the benefits in these being available to a wide audience instantly and being a lasting resource. Compare this with the traditional business meeting with its constraints of time and place. The digital alternative wins out much of the time.

Yet many organisations see social media as a waste of time and insist on cramming everyone’s diaries with inefficient face-to-face meetings. Sometimes, maybe, there is a need to get people together in the same room, but for many business decisions and sharing of opinions there is a better digital alternative.

We are also now living in the age of ‘Skype’ video conversations.  I’m amazed at the number of people who use Skype in their personal lives but never use videoconferencing at work. Whilst Skype is free and easy to use, the view on video meetings in the office is still that it’s complicated and expensive. So, again, we have a generation of people living in the digital age at home and turning the clock back when they go in to the office.

So “reinventing the company” has to include radical changes to the way work is performed in the digital age.  Not just to use the technology more effectively, but also to keep up with the expectations of the new generation of digital natives. For business to succeed it needs to engage with this workforce, and it won’t do it using out-dated ways of working.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Another step towards Future Work

I'm writing this blog on December 1st, the day the new regime of Shared Parental Leave came into effect in the UK. Employment legislation now recognises that fathers and mothers can share responsibility for caring for a new baby. This is a period of 50 weeks, in addition to the 2 weeks of paternity leave, which means a father can potentially take a whole year off to look after a new baby whilst the mother goes back to work.

This is another sign that the old assumptions about flexible working are no longer valid. Since professional women are now quite likely to be earning more than their male partners, there are economic pressures for fathers to take a major share of the parental leave whilst the mothers return to their careers. Since July this year, UK legislation has also recognised that it’s not just parents who want to work flexibly. Now all employees have equal rights to request flexible working and employers cannot discriminate on gender or parental grounds when considering a request.

These changes mean that employers need to be more prepared than ever to manage flexible workers. However, there is mounting evidence that many companies have not planned for the new world of agile working. In particular, there are still many organisations that don’t allow people to work from home, or from any remote location, because they are unsure how to make it happen.

To provide guidance on remote working, the Telework Association is planning to update the Telework Handbook. This will give practical advice to companies and individuals wanting to set up remote working schemes and will contain up-to-date examples of how it can be done. The project is being funded through the crowd-funding website Kickstarter and can be found at