A grown-up approach to change

There are good and bad things in all ways of working. The important thing is to recognise why change is needed and to learn from any mistakes.



Every few days there is a furore about working from home and I’ve written about it many times. Last week it was air traffic control when a report came out saying air traffic control chaos last August, which caused delays for more than 700,000 passengers, was fuelled by a “lack of planning” and engineers working from home. It said engineers working remotely took 90 minutes to arrive and restart a crucial part of UK air traffic control’s IT system during the August bank holiday meltdown.

The talk shows and media latched on to the working from home and didn’t pay as much attention to the “significant lack of pre-planning” highlighted without “any multi-agency rehearsal of the management of an incident of this nature and scale”.

The two are clearly linked. Pre-planning means thinking of all scenarios and preparing for them. That would include ensuring that there was not a situation where the crucial engineers were 90 minutes away.

Too often the ‘debate’ about homeworking centres around such cases, while the negatives of working in the office are rarely examined. Campaigners for more flexible working – of which working from home is just one example – generally accept that there are good cases for people to sometimes not work from home. Clearly, too, there are roles that cannot be done from home [which doesn’t mean there can’t be some form of flexibility to them].

Why is the media so unbalanced in their approach to the subject? In life there are rarely either or situations. The truth tends to lie somewhere in the middle. In many cases, there are good and bad outcomes. Take the panic about AI. AI has the potential to deliver amazing medical advances, on the one hand. But it needs to be properly regulated. Yet too often the only headlines you see are the panic ones. That doesn’t really move us forward much.

Instead we need a grown-up discussion of the pros and cons of all ways of working and a recognition that flexible working is crucial for many workers these days. We are not living in the 50s. The economy needs both men and women to stay in the workforce. That means changing work, as hard as it might be for some people [particularly some people at the top of companies] to wake up and adapt. No-one is denying there are challenges. But there are more challenges for many in maintaining the status quo. Change also means a lot of learning because we are all feeling our way in this new world of working. Mistakes will be made. The important thing is to learn from them.

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