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A new book by smart working expert Andy Lake tackles all the major issues about hybrid working and argues the case for questioning all aspects of how we work in order to improve it for everyone.
Employers can resist the move towards more flexible ways of working that technology is delivering, play catch-up or actively embrace it and be intentional about maximising the benefits, according to a new book.
Beyond hybrid working: A smarter & transformational approach to flexible working by Andy Lake, the editor of Flexibility.co.uk and a renowned expert in smart working, is a comprehensive and highly timely look at the future of working which addresses every aspect of how flexible working is changing the way we work and how we can do it better.
For Lake, flexible working is an umbrella term for atypical ways of working and overlaps to some extent with smart and hybrid working. He says hybrid working during the pandemic ranges from ‘controlled hybrid’ [which includes rules specifying the days that an employee is in the workplace], flexible hybrid [which includes a looser framework for hybrid working and more autonomy for employees] and smart maturity [with a focus on innovation and transformation, rethinking the way we work along ‘virtual first’ principles, redesigning offices for maximum choice and flexibility and emphasising trust and results as the basis of measuring performance].
Lake, a judge for WMPeople’s Top Employer Awards, questions the move to specified days back in the office and the negative depiction of homeworking in the press, despite evidence of the positives. He interrogates, for instance, Google’s stipulation that employees spend three days a week in the office and two days “wherever they work best”. “Why not five days wherever people work best?” asks Lake.
For him it is about rethinking how we work on a granular level – based on the particular tasks we do and where we might do them best – and always asking why of any word-based process. He suggests, for instance, assessing those tasks in terms of how time-specific or how place-specific they are.
Lake describes how resistance to change, a natural phenomenon, can be overcome, including how smart working is evaluated and the importance of putting in place a structure for its implementation and of celebrating achievement and spreading best practice.
He deals with questions such as why mandating days in the office is not a great idea [for example, the impact on office usage if everyone is not in the office at the same time and the likelihood of losing some employees who want greater flexibility]. Lake talks about the 4-day week too, but says it comes in very different formats and questions why, though reducing the working week may be a good thing, the number of days in the working week has to be so rigid as well as how increased productivity can be guaranteed for every role on reduced days, for instance, production line jobs.
Lake goes on to discuss different forms of flexible working and how they might be developed to ensure everyone – including frontline workers – can work in more flexible ways, for instance, team-based rostering used in the health service, and greater digital equality in all jobs.
He says many of the questions being asked by those interested in smart working will improve how we work across the board and make work more inclusive, for instance, how we focus on what we do best in the office and on the purpose of working in an office and the type of management needed for the future. For him, smart working is about treating everyone as equal, wherever they may be working, and optimising the work environment wherever that may be. He talks, for instance, about ‘meeting equality’ and how technology can help to make everyone – even those in an office meeting room – appear separately on screen so remote workers have equal power.
Lake has chapters on wellbeing, on the role of government in setting the smart working agenda, on sustainability and on the need for joined-up thinking across everything from housing policy to care policy. The former includes work life balance issues, sensory considerations, for instance, ensuring the right acoustics for neurodiverse employees, access to natural light as well as access to nature and co-working spaces. He describes in detail the role of technology in improving the ways we work, including increasing office efficiency through smart building technology and he writes about how homes will change as work spaces are embedded in them.
Smart working will only work, he says, if it challenges the nature and value of the work we do as well as the amount. “If people just end up doing more of what they’ve always done, but in different environments and at different times, the value of that will be limited,” he writes. What matters is making work better, which means ensuring the places we work – wherever they are – are of good quality and that employees have more autonomy generally over how and when they work.
Lake ends by looking at future trends, including whether we will all end up working in virtual spaces in the metaverse. He says “the future is always plural and multispeed”. He adds: “It may well contain countertrends. This may come from resistance to the future, with the kind of rose-tinted nostalgia one sees in commentary about ‘getting back to the office’.” In addition to resistance from those who find change difficult, there will also be lobbying from those who will lose out in a transformed world of working, says Lake. But he states: “The choices we have are either resisting the future, playing catch-up with it or actively embracing it. The latter is the best way to achieve the potential benefits – and that requires being intentional about maximising the benefits.”
This is surely an important book which attempts to join all the dots of how, why and where we work in order to focus on how we can shape better ways of working.
*Beyond hybrid working: A smarter & transformational approach to flexible working by Andy Lake is published this week by Routledge.