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Flexible work - the 'unfinished revolution'

Equal Opportunities Commission final report aims to transform the world of work

Almost the last act of the UK Equal Opportunities Commission - now merged into an all-embracing Equality and Human Rights Commission - was to produce the final report into their investigation of the 'transformation of work'.

The result is a highly readable, upbeat, evangelistic and extensively researched report advocating increased flexibility and proposing new models of work with jaunty titles such as Timelord, Time-Stretcher, Remote-Controller and Shift-Shaper.

The Dr Who/Star Trek allusions that pervade the narrative may not be everyone's cup of tea, nor the comic-strip cartoons dotted around the report. But the report is a serious work, with many case studies highlighting benefits in practice, and with good use of recent research. 

The report also goes further than the interim report, reviewed previously in Flexibility, and makes a range of recommendations for the government and for business.

Why change the way we work?

Regular readers of Flexibility will be familiar with the arguments for changing the way we work.  Where this report really adds value in making the case is in adding robust data about demographic change, providing effective bullet point case evidence, and emphasising the inclusion and equality agendas - encouraging more people back into work.

The report also supports the views we have put forward - that organisations often offer work on a piecemeal rather than strategic basis, and that demand from employees is much higher than than the employers are ready for.  Employers report higher availability of flexible work than individuals do, indicating that a company may think it offers flexible working options, but uptake in the company is often patchy and limited to select groups of employees. "In particular, those types most sought, particularly homeworking, were least available," the report notes.

So a key part of the case for flexible work is the need to introduce a strategic approach, both to reap the full business benefits and to prevent an arbitrary approach to dealing with staff aspirations and well-being.

New models of work

New models of work are needed, the report argues, both because the nature of work is changing for many people, and to reflect people's expectations of greater control and autonomy.

The key analytical proposal is that work needs to be understood in term of axes of location (in)dependence and time (in)dependence.  The following chart shows the proposed axes:

The segments of the chart then receive their catchy epithets to represent the dominant workstyle:

These are future more than current workstyles.  The analysis emphasises that for all kinds of work some kinds of flexibility are possible, whether of time or place.

So the key characteristics of each workstyle are:

  • Choice over when and where to work.
  • Greatest range of business returns.
  • Work anytime, anywhere.
  • 'mumtrepreneurs'.
  • Greater choice over where to work.
  • Cost savings on office overheads.
  • Higher productivity.
  • Menu of time, location choices.
  • Recruitment, retention.
  • Productivity.
  • More choice over time in fixed workplaces.
  • Delivers peaks, troughs, 24/7.
  • Family contracts, shift-swapping, negotiated shifts, self–rostering, time accounts, annualised hours.

These ideas are not perfect, but the writers say they are seeking

"to create a new language, some new work models and some new generation workers – Remote-controllers, Shift-shapers, Time-stretchers and Timelords – as well as new models for lifetime working and for flexible communities. We hope this will stimulate and support new discussions and drive forward an agenda to transform work – to create the next generation of flexible working and the workplaces of tomorrow for the workforce of tomorrow."

The concepts should prove very useful for training and brainstorming within organisations as a way of helping people to think in new and fresh ways about work and how roles relate to time and location.

Where we would suggest the debate goes next is to move away from thinking about whole jobs, and to use this kind of analysis to examine particular tasks within jobs.

One of the biggest obstacles to greater flexibility is the kind of narrow thinking that where people set out their stall and say "there's no way this job can be flexible".  Dividing jobs into their component parts often reveals unthought-of capacities for flexibility.


The authors of the report are not afraid to stir things a bit, nor are they afraid of spending government money. We hope the Treasury agrees with this outlook.  Key recommendations for government include:

  • Championing new models through government action
  • Creating a 'workplace makeover fund' for small employers
  • Introducing tax incentives for all employers linked to new models of working and the extent of change
  • Ensuring that routes into work match skills and jobs throughout the life-cycle.

For business there are recommendations focusing mainly on training and recruitment:

  • Investors in People and other programmes should deliver training for manager in flexible working
  • Business school should include flexible work in management programmes
  • All jobs should be advertised as including flexible work options
  • Employers should work with employees and external experts to introduce new models of working.

The supporting infrastructure needs to change too:

  • Local authorities should plan local services to support flexible working for both employees and service users
  • Childcare hours need to become more flexible
  • Transport networks need to offer better services throughout the day
  • New homes should include places to work.

This is all great stuff, and we look forward to the debate that follows - and to see how willing the government is to support them all.

One recommendation we are puzzled by is that the Commission for Equalities and human rights should "Create a website on new ways of working for employers and individuals".  No need - we're here already! 


A radical blueprint for universal flexibility

The final report on flexible working from the Equal Opportunities Commission, Enter the Timelords: Transforming work to meet the future, turns out to be the most radical thrust from a government-funded body towards promoting flexibility.

Based on solid research and extensive consultation, it proposes new models of work and puts forward challenging recommendations to government and business.

Flexibility verdict: Thoroughly recommended.

You can download the report from the CEHR website.

We also have a review, with more background information, of the interim report in this investigation, Working Outside the Box.



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