Here’s our selection of the best reads relating to Smart Working and the changes needed to working practices and culture, property and technology, with some insights too into the future of work and its wider impacts.
Our selection here offers substance and fresh thinking, and are all by people with strong expertise and experience in the fields they write about. Get in touch if you have other recommendations to add to our bookshelf!
(Note: In the interests of transparency, we draw your attention to the fact that the purchasing links below are affiliate links to Amazon.co.uk. From these we would derive small amounts of commission from qualifying purchases if you went on to purchase from the site. Any funds so derived will be used to support the work of the Smart Work Network and the costs of this website. Other ‘real world’ and online retailers are, of course, available. They are all books we genuinely recommend as adding value to the quest to work smarter and address the future of work.)
Nigel Oseland makes the case for “a human-centric and evidence-based approach” to offices. In this, the book does exactly what it sets out to achieve.
Oseland marshals the evidence for the impacts of office environment on productivity, performance and comfort, looking at a range of factors such as air quality, acoustics, temperature, biophilia, layout, furniture and more, with the best review I’ve seen of the professional and academic literature.
Beyond Hybrid Working – A Smarter & Transformational Approach to Flexible Working
By Andy Lake (2024)
Well, a bit self-promoting to add my own book to the list, perhaps – but it’s new in 2024, it’s out there, and is hopefuly useful! Beyond Hybrid Working aims to get beyond the excessive focus on the location of work. It sets out a comprehensive, benefits-focused and integrated approach to delivering a dynamic flexibility, based on management by results and a culture of trust.
It covers the key areas of People, Workplace, and Technology, and how to achieve improvements on all fronts. Special chapters cover how to weave in the integrated approach to improve Productivity, Wellbeing and Sustainability. There’s more here on the Flexibility.co.uk website.
Neil Usher is a serial head of workplace and has managed large-scale change at major companies like Rio Tinto and Sky. He’s also an insightful and increasingly prolific author.
The Elemental Workplace is full of both common sense and challenges to set you thinking about the key ingredients for making a great workplace. with a unique mix of philosophy, humour and great advice. His other books include Elemental Change – Making Stuff happen When Nothing Stands Still (2020) and the delicately titled Unf*cking Work – How to Fix it For Good (2022)
This, along with Beyond the Human Zoo, was one of the best books of 2022. Brian Elliott was Senior Vice President at Slack and headed up, with his co-authors, the Future Forum consortium. How the Future Works takes an evidence-based and practical approach to empowering teams to work in the most effective ways to deliver their best work – and avoiding the WfH/RTO clichés and pitfalls. It’s a book that does what it says on the time, by people who have lived the changes.
There’s a full review on Flexibility.co.uk.
In the slipstream of the pandemic and the lockdowns, there was a veritable tsunami of instant experts and poorly conceived publications offering wisdom about remote working. So it was a great relief to find a book by someone who knows what they are talking about.
Tsedal Neeley is a professor at Harvard Business School and has a strong industry background, and this shows in the real-world understanding of the business benefits and challenges of remote working. The approach is supported by evidence and case histories throughout.
Chris Kane was formerly head of workplace at the BBC, and led the transformation to agile working and the relocation of much BBC production within London and beyond. The first edition of the book came out in early 2020, and this new edition, with a co-author on board, takes into account more fully the changing context of work that we’ve seen over the following three years.
The book is particularly strong on the opportunities for real estate to have a transformative role in place-making, and argues that we need a completely new service-led approach to how the real estate industry works to respond to the changing needs of the occupiers and for the best experience for end users.
Around the World in 250 Coworking Centres
By Pauline Roussel & Dimitar Inchev (2021)
This has to be one of the most interesting books written about the phenomenon of coworking. The main strength is its exploration of the variety of coworking in practice. It’s based, as the title says, on the authors’ travels to visit 250 coworking centres around the world. So there are both growing coworking groups with significant investment behind them and small community-led initiatives. There are centres that focus on knowledge workers (the majority) but also numerous ‘maker spaces’. There are centres with a mission to create local jobs, or to promote sustainability, or both. Many target specific industry sectors (e.g. textiles, architecture, food, transport), or specific target user groups whether women, senior citizens or entrepreneurs.
This is not a book analysing trends and numbers, but it explores, with hundreds of photos, coworking as it is lived and experienced, and captures the passion and challenges of people who are driving this sector forward. It certainly brings the sector and the people driving it to life.
Around the World in 250 Coworking Centres is available from Coworkiesbook.com
This is one of the best histories of the growth of the modern office, with thought-provoking insights into the next stages of evolution.
It’s a story of first consolidation of clerical work into offices – spurred by new industries, by global trade and empire and new forms of communication – and now witnessing a process of decentralisation based on digitisation, that creates a new context for more flexible approaches and new models for work and workplace. Through the focus starts in London, it actually follows more of a global path than the title suggests. A lot to learn here.
This is a very readable book by business journalist and entrepreneur Julia Hobsbawm, with all kinds of interesting insights, anecdotes and quotes from interviews. Her grounded view of the ‘Nowhere Office” is encapsulated in a passage about the distributed and nomadic office systems underpinning the D-Day landings in Normandy: “The office of D-Day proved … that the office is not so much a place as a system”. Hobsbawm also places the changing location of (office) work in a wider social and political context. The chapter on “Social Health and Wellbeing” is particularly insightful.
Working from home is not new! We probably all knew that, but this book by architect and academic Frances Holliss provides the detail into just how extensive and varied home-based working has been all around the world. The book explores the various architectural forms these have taken in pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial times, and offers something of a blueprint for the future. This book was written in 2014 and resonates even more now that society has become more generally aware of the possibilities. But as the book shows, it’s not only about knowledge work. It can be about all kinds of hands-on work and enterprise – as long as the design of dwellings supports that. And currently – it doesn’t!
Buy Beyond Live/Work
Peter Cheese, CEO of the Chartered institute of Personnel and Development has always been a supporter of greater flexibility as a key ingredient of making work better. Here he makes the case for putting people strategy at the heart of business change, in a rapidly changing world.
The book covers economic, social, demographic, technological and geopolitical change, and maps a way forward for better leadership, improvements in education and training and the need for organisations to focus on the right things. These include a greater focus on wellbeing, equality and happiness as outcomes as well as business success. The goal should be to become “agile learning organisations”.
Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School, is a high-profile author on the future of work. Previous books have included The 100 Year Life (which challenges our traditional models of employment in the light of demographic and social change – and longer lives) and The Shift, which explores wider trends in the world of work.
Redesigning Work sets out some practical methods for helping organisations embrace hybrid working, balancing the needs of the business and of individuals.
Buy Redesigning Work
This is a book that goes big on inclusion and how to achieve a truly people-centred workplace.
The author takes no prisoners in setting out what makes for a human-centric work culture, and provides steps on how to achieve it. She makes the case for organisations supporting people in all ways to be their authentic self, while continually improving ways of working.
Flexibility and agility are at the heart of this, and being open to future change.
Andrew Barnes spoke to the Smart Work Network about his global campaign for a 4-day week. His book adds in the essential detail that distinguishes his approach, which focuses on productivity as much as employee benefit, from the traditional approach to a compressed working week.
The campaign continues to make waves in trials around the world, and the ideas are being adopted in whole or in part by many organisations. Currently, there’s all kinds of confusion and talking at cross-purposes in the media, busineesss and governments. This book sets out what it’s really all about.
Buy The 4 Day Week
Jeremy Myerson and Philip Ross are two of the leading thinkers around workplace change and the future of work, running the WorkTech Academy and the long-running WorkTech series of global conferences.
The book is broad-ranging, covering the history of the office before moving on to look at current and future developments, encompassing smart buildings, new models of space use and provision, new ways of working, the impacts of technology, hybridity of various kinds, and changes to urban form. “Unworking” is about unlearning what we know, and reinventing work and workplaces.
Here are a couple of slightly older books that were ahead of their time and still resonate:
Business journalist and inclusion expert Alison Maitland joined forces with flexible work and telework expert Peter Thomson to make a lively and very readable case for flexibility and agility.
There’s a strong focus on productivity and business benefits that anchors the book in the real world, along with its case examples of organisations that were ahead of the game
Buy Future Work
Our own Philip Vanhoutte had implemented Smarter Working at Plantronics, and this unashamedly evangelical manifesto sets out how to do it, and do it well.
It’s practical, strong on technology, work organisation, leadership and what it takes to be a smarter working professional and effective virtual team. The importance of having a strategic approach covering “bricks, bytes and behaviours” is central.