Future of Work: The freedom to choose when we work
As part of our blog series on the Future of Work, I would like to explore a topic we can all relate to: when we work, how we split time between work and private life today, and how this may be different in the future.
Broadband, mobile devices, cloud-based collaboration services and VPNs help us work anywhere anytime. Knowledge workers are no longer constrained to work 9-to-5 in the office and can choose more flexible ways of working such as telecommuting, working from home, or working while traveling or commuting.
Many knowledge workers, while still going to the office everyday, choose to intersperse personal tasks throughout the work day. One would start work at home very early in the morning, then get the children ready for school, drop them off at school, go to work, maybe take an hour around mid-day for some physical activity, later pick-up the kids or perform household duties, and resume work late in the evening once the house is quiet again.
There are lots of possible variations here, but this style of work hits what a 2010 survey performed by KPMG in Australia calls the “sweet spot” of work fragmentation where respondents report an increase in work satisfaction, sense of freedom, health and quality of personal time. Beyond this point is the “fully blended worker”, someone who works long hours with little time for personal or social activities, and often with negative health consequences.
How will this trend unfold in the future? Fragmentation of work is definitely not going away: 50% of respondents in the KPMG survey expect fragmentation to remain the same in the future (and enjoy having the choice of when/where/how they work) and 34% expect it to increase.
While technology has freed us from the tyranny of having to work 9-to-5, it seems though that we still haven’t fully figured out how to use this new-found freedom. Who’s the boss, you or your gadget? is the question a New York Times article was asking last year, pointing out that “We’re in a technology tsunami. Whether you love it or hate it, ultimately we have to figure out how to survive it and make it work for us.”
While regulations still have to catch with these new ways of working, companies are experimenting with new workplace policies: Germany-based employees of car manufacturer Volkswagen for example see email notification on their Blackberries automatically turned off outside of work hours. In the Netherlands, the motto of the NWOW (New Way of Working) event “Working wherever and whenever suits you best, as long as the agreed results are achieved on time” pretty much sums it all up. This event was organized by a coalition of businesses, government and an environmental organization in order to promote telecommuting and other flexible ways of working, provide training and share best practices. The event also involved standing at traffic lights in the morning rush hour in pink bathrobes to explain that new ways of working can be beneficial for people, profits and the planet all at the same time.
So how do we design a workplace that empowers workers to manage their own time? How does it work in your company? Does technology have a role to play in helping us decide when we work and on which task? Or is technology good enough, and the real blockers are to be found in legal frameworks, HR policies and management practices? What would your ideal workday look like, and how can we make it happen?