Flexible Work and the Future of Work

Guest post by Jacob Morgan, Author, The Future of Work and The Collaborative Organization

The Future If,” a global community of business leaders, authors and futurists who explore what our future can look like IF certain technologies, ideas, approaches and trends actually happen. The community looks at everything from AI and automation to leadership and management practices to augmented reality and virtual reality, the 4th industrial revolution and everything in between. This article is this week’s discussion topic that is open to member participation. Visit TheFutureIf.com to learn more.

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A definition:
We all may have slightly different perspectives on flexible work but I think of it as working anytime, anywhere, and ideally on any device.

The issue:
Flexible work isn’t a new topic but lately it appears as though there has been some push back against it with companies like IBM killing off their flexible work policies.

Pros of flexible work:
This is still one of the things that employees want the most from their employers yet it’s also something that organization’s struggle with quite a bit. Some of the main benefits here are: being able to attract and retain great talent, creating better work-life integration, perception as a modern company, improved morale, lower absenteeism, & longer tenure. Many companies around the world are exploring workplace flexibility programs or already have them in place.

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Cons of flexible work:
I’ve had many debates at conferences and in private conversations with business leaders who absolutely don’t believe in the value of any workplace flexibility. The rationale is that employees can’t be trusted, they need to be in the same physical location for collaboration and ideation, and that the organization can’t maintain control over an organization where employees are all over the place.

My perspective:
Many companies that have abolished their workplace flexibility efforts did so as a way to cut staff without officially firing them. I’ve spoken with several employees at companies like IBM who used to be able to work from home/etc due to their crazy commutes. With the new shift, these employees had no choice but to resign their positions (or commute 4–5 hours a day!). So, instead of a company firing thousands of people it can simply remove a perk and say that employees left voluntarily! In the case of companies like Yahoo I also heard of employees who had entire side business while “working full time.” In this case there was no accountability and no controls over workplace flexibility so they just loss all control.

I absolutely believe in the value of workplace flexibility but it’s not just telling employees that they can now do whatever they want. Workplace flexibility means having mangers who are comfortable leading a team that they can’t see, it means setting clear expectations, it means having the right tools/technologies so that employees can work effectively, and it means making sure that employees are able to be accountable for the work they are doing.

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I don’t see this as a one size fits all approach for every company around the world. I think it’s up to each organization and sometimes up to each team, to decide what approaches and policies make sense. But, workplace flexibility is absolutely crucial in this new world of work where we are always connected. Work is not a place you go to, it’s something you can take with you.

But what about people who work in retail, manufacturing, etc? Those who have to show up to work? Even in those situations companies like GAP are trying to give employees as much flexibility as possibly by allowing them to manage their schedules collaboratively and getting other people to cover their shifts.

Curious to hear all of your thoughts, especially from those of you who believe that workplace flexibility is a BAD thing. Hoping to have some constructive debates/discussions on this since it seems to be a very popular topic!

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Really curious to hear your thoughts, what else would you add? Are there any other scenarios you can think of here? Visit TheFutureIf.com to join this community of 600 business leaders and participate in this discussion.

Jacob Morgan is a best-selling author, speaker, and futurist. His new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Subscribe to his newsletter, visit TheFutureOrganization, or become a member of the new Facebook Community The Future If…and join the discussion.

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