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Britain needs to be dragged into the 21st century, says the founder of a new political party promoting flexible working.
When I first read about oneDrum, a new political party whose aim is to promote flexible working, I was slightly sceptical. When I read that its leader was CEO of an IT firm which promotes collaborative software, I was even more dubious. I thought this is all about marketing the software, but when I spoke to Jasper Westaway he certainly raised some interesting ideas about the kind of big issues that surround the flexible work agenda.
For him it is not just about working one day from home a month, although his party is petitioning the Government about this. It is about putting the way we work and the way we live at the centre of politics. It is about dragging British culture into the modern age, about trusting employees to work together collaboratively and trusting them to be able to balance their work and family life.
However, although he has chosen politics to get his message across, he admits: “The key issues are not political but cultural and these are much harder barriers to bring down.”
He mentions a conference he attended recently where he spoke of the need for greater collaboration between businesses. He says big business finds it hard to move away from a culture of secrecy and competition which he believes is outdated. He mentions the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where people who have done the same job as each other in the past are not easily able to share information with each other because of a work culture which does not encourage collaboration. He also mentions new recruits to a company who could benefit from talking to people who have done their job before.
“Vast amounts of information are stored within companies but are just not being used,” he says. “Companies should be enabling this discovery process, but they are operating in a kind of command economy while we work in a free market economy. Twenty-first century working needs to move on.”
Flexible working is another cultural barrier to better working, says Westaway. He believes that most jobs have some aspect which requires greater focus and says this is easiest to do by working from home. The office provides too many distractions. Plus people who work in different environments are more likely to make discoveries of their own, he says. “They will bring something new back into the office from what they have learnt outside it,” he says. “Work culture is evolving very fast and companies cannot go on behaving as if they were 19th century wool mills.”
Westaway, who was part of the founding team at software firm Enigmatec and has worked as a software engineer at Reuters and UBS, works from home most of the time which allows him to spend more time with his son. He drops his son at nursery in the morning and says after this he gets “tons done”. He believes that when he was starting up his company last year he says his productivity tripled when he opted to work from home.
He will register his party after the European elections and says he has had interest from members of the public who agree with his party’s agenda on collaborative working, active learning and working smarter not harder and want to become candidates.
He thinks that after the initial anger at the current political scandal dies down, something more constructive will emerge and he will then push the party’s agenda more. He is happy that it is being presented at the moment as a single issue party, but will review this in the next few months. However, he firmly believes that the kind of work life issues he is tackling and which he thinks could have a big impact on reviving the UK economy have a broader agenda and he thinks these are the issues that people are increasingly interested in engaging with politically. “It is about changing our lifestyles and enaging with politics in a different way,” he says, “that is more directly involved with our everyday lives.”