By Andy Lake
Since 2020, we have seen an acceleration of trends that span more than 30 years. These include the rise of flexible working, new office design and new technologies enabling much greater mobility of work, plus increasing levels of comfort with video collaboration and virtual interaction.
However, while some companies forge ahead in modernising ways of working, we’re also seeing a lot of organisations stuck in a moment – clinging on to past working practices. This is with both “return to office” policies and uneasy compromises with new ways of working. Hybrid Working (basically sometimes in the office, sometimes at home) has been adopted as a way to hopefully keep everyone happy. Or at least, not too unhappy.
Moving beyond this unambitious compromise is what my new book, Beyond Hybrid Working – A Smarter and Transformational Approach to Flexible Working, is all about.
The aim is to provide both a route map to Smart Maturity and an exploration of the issues in taking an approach to flexibility that:
- Focuses on improving work and the work experience, wherever people are working
- Introduces dynamic flexibility, rather than setting individual work arrangements in stone
- Sets out a strategic and integrated approach covering the key functions of People, Workplace and Technology
- Provides practical guidance to leaders, managers and teams, with useful workshop exercises included
- Includes innovative approaches to flexibility for the majority of people who do not work in offices – people with hands-on, site-specific and direct customer-facing roles
- Takes a benefits-driven approach rather than fixating on role categories or policies
- Explores the benefits and issues around productivity, environmental sustainability and wellbeing – advocating an intentional approach to maximise the benefits
- Has a sharp future focus, to take account of how the context of working practices will continue to change.
Real world case studies
Beyond Hybrid Working is grounded in organisational realities, with 13 new case studies from organisations across sectors that have implemented Smart/Agile Working:
- AWE plc (the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment)
- European Commission
- Government of British Columbia
- Government Property Agency
- NatWest Bank
- (HP) Poly
- Versus Arthritis.
All of the case study organisations take differing approaches – there is no one-size-fits-all – and are at different stages of their journeys. However, all are committed to adopting innovative and strategic approaches to introducing flexibility.
In writing the book, I also had conversations with experts across many fields. So the writing has been an exercise in sharing ideas and best practice.
And there’s a lot of learning from my three decades of being involved in dozens of implementations and leading or participating in leading-edge research programmes.
What’s in the book?
Chapter 1 provides a definition of Smart Working, and attempts to clarify where it differs from other conceptions of work flexibility. The Glossary further supports this quest for clarity, and how I use the different terms throughout the book.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of ten trends which, I believe, provide a following wind for the changes we see in the world of work. These provide the context for the comprehensive approach to the transformation that distinguishes Smart Working.
Chapters 3 and 4, on developing the strategy, the principles, business case and metrics, set the foundations for an integrated and comprehensive programme of change. Improvisation and tactical changes during the pandemic to ensure business continuity now need to be replaced by a comprehensive and strategic approach. These chapters set out the parameters of a programme, areas of investment and saving, how to get the baseline insights for change and develop metrics for monitoring progress and evaluation.
Chapters 5 to 10 cover the core functional areas of People, Property and Technology that have to work together in a strategic programme. Chapter 5 focuses on the ways people work and how to engage everyone in working smarter. The transformations set out in the following chapters hinge on people understanding the relationships between tasks, place, time, flexibility and the potential for change.
Chapters 6 to 8 and 12 cover the various locations of the workplace. Chapter 6 looks at the organisation-owned workplace where employees have traditionally gathered with their managers. Chapter 7 addresses the wider Extended Workplace, a core concept of this book, and the need to establish equality between work locations. This section also covers the fast-growing area of coworking. Chapter 8 addresses the Virtual Workplace, which is where we also work, whatever physical location we are in, and technologies coming over the horizon that are likely to impact the ways we work.
Chapters 9 and 10 focus on people and culture – how to develop a culture of Smart Working, and how to manage Smart Working teams. In these, as in preceding chapters, I try to steer thinking away from the assumption found in most other guides that there is a central, most important place for work and where the manager normally is, and there are difficulties to overcome caused by teams being dispersed and ‘remote’.
Chapter 11 focuses on the challenging question of productivity, setting out research findings and an approach to harnessing the benefits of Smart Working to improve productivity.
Chapter 12 looks in depth at the ‘Personal Domain’ of the extended Workplace – new model homeworking – and how to get it right. We’ll also explore how it’s also relevant to many more people than office-based knowledge workers, and what that means for the future.
Wellbeing is the wide-angled focus of Chapter 13. This looks at how Smart Working can support wider initiatives in promoting wellbeing, and the key ingredients for ensuring that every step is taken to maximise the wellbeing of people working in new ways and in new environments. So it covers physical health, mental health, ergonomics, acoustics, as well as best practices around the work-life interface and the extent of employers’ responsibilities for wellbeing.
Chapter 14 has a special focus on government and public sector. The public sector can reap many benefits by working in smarter and more flexible ways, and examples of coworking and sharing workplaces in the sector. We’ll also look at government’s role in developing new public policy responses needed to address the future of work.
Chapter 15 provides insights into the sometimes contradictory research on the environmental impacts of new ways of working, and proposes ways to maximise the potential for reducing the environmental impacts of how we work.
Finally, chapter 16 provides a roundup and looks forward to what is likely to be coming next as organisations progress on their journeys into Smart Working, as well as providing an updated Smart Working Maturity Model.
It’s been a big project pulling this all together – but I hope it will provide a useful guide for introducing smarter forms of flexibility that will help organsiations to be in a strong position to adapt to the future of work. And hopefully it will be an enjoyable read too!