The ultra-flexible workplace

What can you do if you have complex childcare needs and are only free to work a few hours a week? Slivers of Time may be the answer if you want to keep your hand in at work and earn some extra money. finds out more.

Slivers of Time may be the answer if you want to keep your hand in at work and earn some extra money.

The award-winning scheme, which was set up in 2005 by technology journalist Wingham Rowan, has been in the news recently after it was announced that it will form part of the Government’s plans to get people with complex needs off benefits and back to work.

The idea is that people would be able to work an increasing amount of hours before they start losing benefits. “The idea is that people could keep their hand in at work and increase their hours as their circumstances change,” said a spokeswoman for Slivers of Time.

The social enterprise organisation, which is based in East London, emerged from a government-funded programme to create new types of marketplace to tackle economic deprivation. It provides the technology necessary to create new, more flexible local labour markets and bring more people into the workforce.

The model mainly works with the public sector, including local authorities, the NHS and housing associations on areas such as personalised care, but private sector organisations are also becoming interested, including Tesco.

Rowan has been developing the idea since 1994 when he approached the think tank Demos with a project about “Public Benefit Computer Trading”, a way of using the Internet to sell small amounts of time.

The idea of Slivers of Time is to use the framework of existing self-managed online marketplaces like the travel company and to target this at people who only have a few hours a week to offer as workers or volunteers and organisations which need this kind of flexible employee.

Potential employees include students, mums and the disabled. The aim is to create a flexible workforce for more flexible businesses, cutting overheads and giving workers and those who employ them more control.

The Slivers of Time’s website says: “We’re working towards a world where anyone with time on their hands can realise the value of that asset. They may be unskilled, computer illiterate or have special needs. With the right marketplace they can find a niche.

“That may be formal work, or providing local services, or volunteering. But, crucially, the person will be in total control and have a full overview of their constantly changing options. Transactions will be safe and instant, not accomplished with phoning or emailing. That dramatically lowers the overheads, risks and inconvenience of buying.”

The organisation works with local recruitment agencies and organisations to act as a catalyst for creating a slivers of time system.

School hours
A spokeswoman said: “It is ideal for people whose children are in school and can only go to work during school hours and can’t work in the school holidays or for parents of disabled children who can only work when their child is in respite care.”

The potential employee can either register through Slivers of Time, who will pass on their details to a local recruitment agency or direct to a recruitment agency. The recruitment agency might interview the person over the phone and then matches them up with the appropriate job. Even if there is no recruitment agency yet in the person’s area, they can register and when a local marketplace is set up their details will be forwarded.

When they register, they fill in details about themselves, including their postcode, when they are available to work, what kind of work they want and how they want to be contacted, for instance, by text, email or phone. They can change their availability if, for instance, their child is ill.

The types of work available vary from office work to care work and manual work and settings include offices, call centres, libraries and people’s homes.

People can give feedback about a Slivers of Time worker through a star ratings system. This applies more to those working in the care sector.

As care becomes increasingly personalised and people are put in charge of their own care budget, the Slivers of Time model allows them to access support in a more flexible way, when they want and need it. “The beauty of it is that it works in real time when people need it,” says the Slivers of Time spokeswoman. “It also works for employers who have busier periods of work. There are a variety of ways this flexibility can benefit organisations.”

The organisation has also been working recently with Tesco, who have been using the Slivers of Time model internally for their own staff. Staff who want to work just a few hours a day or do overtime can register their availability and if their own store can’t give them the hours they might be able to travel to a nearby store which can accommodate them. The scheme was piloted in London last year.

As the Slivers of Time website says: “A modern marketplace for people’s time will be much more complex behind-the-scenes than auction or listings sites. But it can create opportunities for work that don’t exist at the moment.” To find out more about Slivers of Time, click here.

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