The Future of Flexibility

James Campanini
Managing Director, Cisco WebEx, EMEAR
Cisco WebEx
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I read some recent news stories which caused me to start thinking about what the world of work will look like in 10 years’ time; one about boredom in the office and another about a proposal to reduce working hours.

Whilst we all know boredom leads to a lack of concentration and, ultimately, more mistakes, it’s interesting to hear that it’s on the rise in the workplace. Aren’t our jobs exciting enough to keep us engaged? OK, so we’re not all professional wine tasters or travel guide writers, but we each spend an average of eight hours a day at work, so it’s important that we enjoy what we do. And, it’s equally as important for our employers to make sure we feel challenged.

At the opposite end of the scale, however, is new legislation. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has proposed a reduction in our working weeks to just 20 hours. Why?  To alleviate the pressures of ‘overworking, low well-being, high carbon emissions’ and to offer employment to those who are currently struggling to find a job.

There are two very different arguments in these stories but I think there’s a much simpler answer to both of them, one which plenty of companies are already adopting without problem; flexible working.

Thinking about where we’ve come from to where we are now, our lives and developments within them have all pointed towards more flexible living; cars, planes, mobile phones, laptops. We have followed a natural evolution into a world where we don’t feel the constraints of time or geography.

So, accepting a flexible approach in work, much like we have in our personal lives, would be far more beneficial, not to mention realistic. After all, no one likes to be stuck in the office late at night or to walk their dog when it’s dark outside. We already know that some businesses have adopted solutions to enable flexible working, so why are some still failing to recognise the benefits? With web conferencing becoming more readily available across multiple platforms, and technology improving day by day, we are increasingly able to continue our day jobs from anywhere at any time. It’s now not uncommon for people to conduct their first meeting of the day at home, or leave early to finish up those last conference calls from the comfort of their home office, avoiding the dreaded rush hour (which will only get worse during London 2012). All of which are totally acceptable now we live in a time where our professional and personal lives are increasingly merged.

Stepping away from the typical nine-five, will most certainly help to relieve boredom and maintain employee engagement, whilst reducing stress levels of those who are rushing to make nine am meetings in the office. Perfect!

Whilst I’ve mainly talked about the benefits to the individual here, let’s not forget those which can be seen by the SME itself. A flexible work force is a happy and engaged one, not to mention productive. Implementing legislation as outlined by the NEF, would have a damaging impact on SMEs, more than anyone else. Confusion around legality, increased costs associated with hiring new employees to pick up the lost hours and time allocated to training are just a few of the implications which would add to the existing challenges SMEs face.

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