A revolution in work that will see many employees decide when, where and how they do their jobs could be as little as a decade away. Successful businesses will measure and reward people by results, rather than hours, and offices will shift from being nine-to-five workplaces to meeting places.
These ideas are put forward by two visiting fellows at Cass Business School, which is part of City University London, and Henley Business School in a new book, Future Work: How Businesses Can Adapt and Thrive in the New World of Work (Palgrave Macmillan), published this month.
The book, which draws on a survey of international managers and examples of companies already making the transition, argues that a radical change in working practices will help businesses boost output, cut costs, speed access to new markets, and afford employees greater freedom.
“In the 21st century, we still cling to a rigid model of fixed working time and place better suited to the industrial age,” says Alison Maitland, a Senior Visiting Fellow at Cass Business School. “Long hours are often required and rewarded without any measure of the productivity involved.
“However, there is overwhelming evidence that employees are more productive if they have greater autonomy over where, when and how they work. Trusting people to manage their own work lives, individually or in teams, pays off.”
The concept could see the traditional nine to five working day disappear and be replaced with a model that rewards people by performance and results, rather than hours worked and presence in the office.
At Google, engineers are already judged on what they produce, not where or when they do it. “Our engineers can work whatever hours they like,” explains Matt Brittin, Google CEO, UK and Ireland, “assuming they co-ordinate with colleagues and deliver what we've agreed. They can be nocturnal.”
The key to implementing ‘future work’ is measuring output, they say. By agreeing what needs to be achieved, managers can set their employees free from the constraints of presenteeism – the belief that they must be present in the workplace, often for long hours, regardless of whether there is work to do – and allow them to work more productively.
Gap, the clothing retailer, halved the rate of loss of employees in the production and design department of its Outlet division in California when it introduced a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).
“It’s like being back at college,” says Eric Severson, senior vice-president of HR & Communications at GAP, in a case study in the book. “People are held accountable for what they achieve rather than how much time they spend on a project or where they work.” Gap executives believe the approach has given them a three-year competitive advantage.
In addition to improvements in productivity, the authors say the business benefits of ‘future work’ include major cost savings on real estate, particularly beneficial to business in difficult economic times, and on employee turnover and absenteeism.
They cite a study of 24,000 IBM staff worldwide which found that those with flexible working could work an extra 19 hours a week before experiencing the same levels of stress and health issues as those without it.
The growth of ‘future work’ will also see more work being done remotely and more “work hubs” - specially designed workspaces equipped with the technology to support mobile workers. “Instead of being the location where employees gather at fixed times to do concentrated work, the office could become primarily a place for developing and maintaining connections between people,” Maitland says.
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