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
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
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.
- Greater choice over where to work.
- Cost savings on office overheads.
- Higher productivity.
- Menu of time, location choices.
- Recruitment, retention.
- More choice over time in fixed workplaces.
- Delivers peaks, troughs, 24/7.
- Family contracts, shift-swapping, negotiated
shifts, self–rostering, time accounts, annualised
These ideas are not perfect, but the writers say they are
"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
- All jobs should be advertised as including flexible work
- 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