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This is another sign that the old assumptions about flexible working are no longer valid.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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Is flexibility becoming the norm?

We have lived for the last 200 years with a model of work that involved a fixed contract of employment for the majority of employees. In exchange for an individual's time an employer is prepared to pay them to do a job. That is usually based on a fixed number of hours per week and a fixed location to do the work.

Now, however, we have technology that allows us to do a high percentage of work without having to be in a fixed place. We also have flexible working schemes that allow people to vary the hours that they work. But we still suffer from rigid work patterns based on the assumption that the norm is fixed time and fixed place. Any other arrangement is an exception to the rule.

Employment legislation reinforces this assumption. People now have a right to 'request' flexible working from their employer on the basis that they are asking for something out of the ordinary. The 'norm' is still seen as a contract that defines the time and place of work and any variation on this is a concession by the employer and a 'benefit' for employees. Well, maybe this is about to change.

On November 9th the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) launched a report 'A Better Off Britain' in which it calls for employers to "Challenge outdated assumptions around flexible working in firms and, where possible, adopt a presumption in favour of flexibility from job advert onwards, to help employees manage their work-life balance effectively, including childcare costs." So, they are saying that flexibility should be taken as the norm. They are also implying that it should be offered to new recruits ('from job advert onwards') as well as existing employees. So it's not something an employee has to earn or only get after 6 months in the job, it's the basis of the relationship from day one.

Managers will struggle to adjust to this new regime. It's harder to exercise control over people if they choose when and where to do their work, But is should be easier to motivate them and engage them by showing they are trusted.  There are also practical issues to be addressed and one current initiative that will help is the re-write of the teleworking handbook. This will help to reassure managers and employees that the new world of work, where flexibility is the norm, is not a recipe for chaos.

The handbook is being funded through a crowdsourcing initiative which will only succeed if there are enough backers. If you would like to support this initiative from the Telework Association you can do so for as little as £5.00.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Flexible working is no longer family friendly

For the last decade flexible working has been officially ‘family friendly’. In the UK we have had legislation that gave the right to parents to request flexible working since 2003. That gave a clear message that the reason for allowing someone to vary their work pattern was to accommodate family commitments and this was reinforced in 2007 when the legislation was extended to carers for adults as well.

This has led to the inevitable link between flexible working and other benefits such as maternity leave, designed to accommodate people who have children. Many organisations introduced policies and procedures that simply complied with the law and allowed parents to ask to vary their hours, or maybe do some work from home, but did not allow other employees this opportunity. As a result, thousands of people are now benefitting from a flexible working arrangement because their employer was obliged to listen to their request. The vast majority of the proposals from employees turned out to be reasonable and have proved to work well for both parties.

 However, the world of work has moved on. Now people who don’t have children are asking why they too can’t work flexibly. They may want to avoid commuting every day and have a different work pattern. They notice that their colleagues who are parents still manage to get their work done effectively and that many of them say they are more productive. And finally legislation has caught up with the realities of working life in the 21st century. Now all employees have the right to request flexible working, so those employers who were simply complying with the legal minimum have had to update their policies.

For those organisations that already gave and equal ‘right to request’ to all employees this may not be a dramatic change. However they are still likely to get an increased number of applications from non-parents as the idea of flexible working for all takes over. For those employers who have so far treated this as a ‘family friendly’ policy there is a bigger shift involved. No longer does it make sense to discriminate on the basis of the family situation. The reason that someone wants to work flexibly becomes irrelevant and employers should not be putting themselves in the position of judging the value of one employee’s personal life versus another.

So finally, employers are being forced to view flexible working as something other than family friendly. If they take the time to look at the evidence they will find that it is actually ‘business friendly’. There is now a wealth of evidence to show that giving people choice over when and where to do their work, results in improved productivity. Those organisations wanting to attract and retain the best talent (and who doesn’t?) will recognise that saying ‘yes’ to requests makes business sense. And as we move further away from the ‘family friendly’ era we will move closer to the day when the idea of fixed working patterns becomes the exception and it is assumed that all work arrangements are flexible as long as they meet the business requirements.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Flexible working for all

Today is a key date in the evolution of work. In the UK there is a change to the legislation giving employees a right to request flexible working. It will now apply to all employees not just parents and carers.

You could just dismiss this as a minor change which will involve a quick revision of the appropriate HR policy. Or you might see it as a fundamental change in our assumptions about work. I think it’s the latter.

For the last 200 years we have made the assumption that work consists primarily of full time, permanent employment. Flexible working, temporary jobs, part-time working, job sharing and working from home have all been exceptions to the norm. So employees have to ask permission to work differently from the standard ‘9 to 5’ routine at their employers premises.

Then the government, in its wisdom decided to introduce some ‘family friendly’ legislation to encourage employers to at least consider that work could be done differently. This reinforced the view that flexible working was only applicable to people who had children and didn’t really apply to everyone else. So up to now it has been seen as an employee benefit along with items such as maternity leave and therefore a cost to the business.

Now we are about to enter an era when people without children or other caring responsibilities will start to ask for flexible working. It will become more acceptable for ambitious, career minded professionals to work in non-standard ways. Employers will come to realise that by giving people more choice over when and where they get the job done they will get a more effective workforce.

By giving people more freedom over how they get their job done their productivity will increase and employee turnover and absenteeism will reduce. So flexible working will move from the current situation, where it is the exception, to being the norm. This means that managers will need to develop new skills to cope with the increased variety in the way their people work. And that also provides a great opportunity for HR to guide the organizational culture and management behavior to reflect the new world of work.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Webinar about the changing workplace

I've had the pleasure of being on a couple of panel discussions run by Philip Tidd of Gensler and know that he has an informed view of the way the workplace is developing. So I'm delighted to be running a webinar with him where I will be covering the changing world of work and he will be looking at the implications for the workplace.

It's happening on Thursday May 22nd 18.30-19.30 UK time

I will be basing my contribution on the latest version of my book ‘Future Work’, co-authored with Alison Maitland ( and my extensive experience in helping clients to implement flexible working. Philip will talk from his experience as Head of Consulting, EMEA at Gensler where he advises organisations on all aspects of how improved working environments can lead to enhanced business performance.

This session is not just about new office design. It’s about the changing nature of work and the implications on the places it can now be performed. It will therefore cover developments such as hubs and shared space as well as working on the move and at home.

There are just 25 places on this webinar so attendees will get an ample opportunity to ask questions and comment if they wish. To book a free place please email me ( We will be recording the event so if you can’t make the date let me know and I can point you at the video afterwards.