The future is flexible
If you believe the headlines, soon we’ll only have to work four days a week
and robots are going to take most of our jobs. Predicting the ‘future of work’ is
a difficult task, as most futurists, business journalists and industrial designers
will tell you.
There is one trend, however, that we stand behind at Broadly Speaking HQ –
virtual offices and do-it-whenever-you-like work schedules.
You see, we have no physical HQ. Fourteen years ago, when I set up our
mothership, Clear Ink, I insisted on no building, no office, no commute. We’ve
always been a virtual company.
Any time, any where
Our project team members work wherever and whenever they like. If they do
the work well and make our client’s deadlines, I don’t mind how they get there.
If they miss having an office environment, I’ll pay for them to have a desk at a
Team members have been based in Berlin; Barcelona; Paris; London; Beirut;
Singapore; the wilds of County Kerry, Ireland; and Dublin too. Those who want
to travel can write, design or plan from the road and still earn a decent crust.
We all stay connected by phone, email and teleconference. Instead of having
endless project meetings, we manage projects using Asana, Slack and
Dropbox. We go to clients’ offices when they need us or meet them in cafés and hotel lobbies,
or we hire conference rooms.
This is the future for businesses who want to cut overheads, reduce their
climate change emissions, attract and keep employees, and contribute to a
very happy and loyal team.
We’re not the only ones who know this is the way to go. Bill Gates has
have the edge” when it comes to fighting for and recruiting the best talent.
Research among workers backs up his futurology. According to a survey
from venture capital firm Accel Partners, 76% of millennials would take a pay cut of
at least 3% to work for a company that offers flexible office hours.
Meanwhile, Deloitte reported that millennials are more likely to stay in a role
for more than five years if their company is flexible about where and when they work.
Basically, younger employees like companies who trust them and treat them
Happy, productive teams
But it’s not just about benefits to the employee; the employer benefits too.
A total of 91% of HR professionals said employees were more engaged and
satisfied when provided with flexible working arrangements – that’s according
to recent research from the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).
Surveys aside, changes to workplace structure actually work when trialled.
And it’s not just flexibility that employees are seeking, but few hours too.
Perpetual Guardian – a 240-staff company based in New Zealand that manages trusts, wills and estate
planning – trialled a four-day week in March and April 2018. All staff members
worked four eight-hour days, but got paid for five days.
Academic researchers studied the trial before, during and after its
implementation. It was hailed an unmitigated success for both employees’
health and their commitment to their employer. Work-life balance increased by
24%. Staff stress levels decreased by 7% and overall life satisfaction
increased by 5%.
While not all of your employees may have young children or elderly parents
who need help, family seems to be the biggest driver when it comes to their
need for flexibility.
According to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, both in Ireland and
across Europe, women and men would prefer to work fewer hours per week
for most of their lives, particularly during the phase of life when they have
But how can you, as an employer, make flexibility and fewer hours actually
work? Your need to collaborate with your employees on potential solutions.
Talk to them about what they want instead of designing and then imposing a
solution on them.
Even if your flexible work practices are beautifully designed, they might not
work for everyone.
A total of 63% of workers in Brazil said remote working led to isolation from
their colleagues, according to 2017 research from Eurofound and the
International Labour Office. The blurred lines between home and work also led to stress for remote workers.
Support and oversight
To address these problems, greater support and oversight are needed, and
that was according to the workers themselves. Some 34% of workers said
they wanted to have contact with their direct supervisor weekly and 31% said
they wanted daily contact.
So, you’ll need to be open to tweaking things as you go along and ensure
your communication channels are always open.
You also need to be clear about the parameters of flexible working. Make sure
you have a clearly defined and agreed written policy.
Acas’s research found that consistency and fairness were key to effectively
managing flexible teams and keeping everyone happy.
Set an example
And that’s not all. You need to do it yourself too. Leaders must be role models
and advocates for flexible working. One large European organisation we work
with found that the staff members who used flexible working practices the
most were those who had a boss who did the same. And the percentage of
flexible working days closely matched those of the leader, even though there
was no requirement for them to follow this pattern. When their manager
worked one day a week from home, they worked one day from home and so
The virtual office works for us because we’re project-based and we mainly
work with creative people who prefer quiet work environments. Our team
members also like to work on many projects at a time – including their own.
Or they have other responsibilities or interests including competitive sports,
writing books, long-term travel, kids, older parents, campaigning or community
But most of all, they love avoiding the commute and getting back an extra 10
to 15 hours a week.
Flexible working doesn’t suit every industry. Can you imagine a hospital
without doctors or nurses? Although Japan has developed care robots, they
can’t do CPR or put in an IV… yet.
If this article interests you, get in touch with me at email@example.com.