In this guest post, Bruce Lynn of Dynamic Work discusses the four ways workplace flexibility is impacting organisations. Bruce makes the argument that organisations can be far more agile and competitive if they focus less on where, how and when employees work, and more on the desired outcomes they want employees to achieve.
A new century and a new era of work. The Industrial Age of the 20th century was characterized by ‘Scale Economies’ – massive production facilities, room-filling mainframes, not just blue collar manufacturing plants, but also white collar factories in countless office parks.
The Digital Age is characterized by ‘Distributed Processing’ – supply chain networks, the Internet itself, virtual teams, outsourcing. And new concepts of ‘Dynamic Work’ stems from the principles and pressure inherent in this new world of work.
The Dynamic Work inflection point is triggered by the collision of three major trends…
1. Social – Progressive lawmakers are increasing legislating for more flexible work practices largely in response to shifting social patterns where the pressures of dual income or single parent families (ie. essentially where every parent works) require certain adaptations for home life to survive.
2. Economic - Financial pressures have never been higher with the global economic recession. New approaches to working provide most organisations with their best opportunity for dramatic productivity improvements. Not just within the confines of the company walls, but outside as well. One of the biggest pressures in this area is environmental where ecological concerns and record energy costs are rising rapidly on the public agenda. The old school ‘centralized workplace commuting model’ is costly in time, fuel costs and emissions.
3. Technological – Modern innovations not only become a catalytic enabler for new work modes, but they are also bellwethers for ‘organisational innovation’. Mobile devices, cloud computing, collaboration software, wireless access and virtualisation are just a few state-of-the-art tools in the latest corporate kit bag.
Dynamic Work encompasses and goes by many aliases these days – flexible working, remote working, new world of work, Work 2.0, mobile working, distributed working, digaspora, Velcro work, Results Only Work Environment.
The four faces of Workplace Flexibility
And when most people think about the ‘flex’ in ‘flexible working’, they often have one or two pivots in their mind, but in reality there are at least four…
1. Time – (eg. 9-to-5 clock-punching). This is the dimension that most people think of. Flexible hours, flexi-time. It is a critical one indeed. It helps address the macro load balancing needed to minimize the costly effects of rush-hour bottlenecks. It also provides critical release valves for working parents who are happy to put in the hours, but need a ‘certain hour’ off for a household repair or child illness. A colleague once said, ‘I would rather work twice the hours on my own terms for the same pay than having to slot into someone else’s terms.’
2. Geography – (eg. centralised office worker factories). This dimension is increasing common as well. Home working, remote working, ‘Road Warriors’, the Starbucks army.
3. Role – (eg. command-and-control, rigid hierarchies of fastidious job tick box job descriptions are out). This dimension is about versatility in what the staff do and how they do it. More fluid team-centric, objective-driven dynamic roles are the future. Again, in the ‘White Collar Factories’ of the Industrial Age, such methodical rigour was required to keep the cogs moving smoothly. But in the new world, change is constant and nothing really moves smoothly.
The only thing that does move smoothly is just as easily automated by sophisticated computers as robotic assembly lines are in the blue collar world. The expensive human beings you maintain in your staff have to be more than robots in order to secure a return.
They are exceptional resources with qualities like resilience, adaptability, problem-solving and relationship-building that need to be prized, supported and applied in the most effective way possible. Shackling them to the narrow confines of task working both reduces their drive and limits their potential contribution.
4. Commercial – (eg. full-time, ladder-climbing, jobs-for-life). This dimension is about a broad range of commercial hiring terms of how a person’s work is contracted and remunerated. Part-time and consulting roles have been around for a while, but today introduces even more flexible concepts such as job sharing, contingent pay, portfolio working and equity options.
Halogen Software provides a valuable piece to the technology armamentarium as ‘performance management’ supersedes the age-old ‘activity management’. One cares less about where, when or how objectives are met, as long as the desired outcomes are achieved. But organisations need tools to help them affect the cultural change to a results-driven culture.
If your organization wants to explore the possibilities for a whole new way of working, here’s a thought exercise for you to start exploring Dynamic Work. Imagine blowing up all your legacy – your bricks-and-mortar office building, your organizational charts, etc.
All you have is your ‘Know How’. Your expertise, your IP, your relationships.
How would you get done what you had to get done? Would you need an office building…or do you just need a place where people can meet up an collaborate? Would you need reporting lines…or do you just need a way to track contribution and develop people?
Bruce Lynn (@brucely) writes on the subjects of Dynamic Work as well as Leadership and Management drawing from his years of experiences managing everything from a billion dollar P&L to a one-man band.