The RSA Enterprise team released a new report today on flexible working: The Flex Factor.
As somebody who was self-employed for about a decade, flexible working comes very naturally (I am writing this from a cafe near my home) and it just feels obvious to me that you should give employees as much flexibility as possible in the way they deliver their work. However, I know many others view such flexibility with suspicion, so I am glad to see the evidence base in this report supporting flexible work so strongly. The report makes the case at the level of , inter-alia, wellbeing, productivity and sustainability and one of the headline findings is that we could gain £6.9 billion in productivity.
As the report makes clear, a great deal depends upon the nature of the job, the organisational culture and the technological facilities, but at the heart of the issue is a question of trust. If you believe your employees are basically untrustworthy, and secretly want to do as little as possible as long as they get paid, you might want to keep them under close supervision(or, better, replace them with people who care about their work). But how often is that really the case? Most of the time, people want to work well and to contribute meaningfully. Moreover, while there are social and practical advantages to being in the office, there are many downsides, not least commuting, which is consistently when people feel least happy during the day.
I think this report is a timely opportunity to think carefully about working hours and practices, and factor in social and environmental costs when planning how we get our work done. While the report was more about flexibility(home working, how hours are managed etc) there is a related issue of working hours as such. Personally, I believe we should try to make a compressed 4 day working week the new default working practice, and even have sympathy with the more radical shift of a 21 hour working week.
If that all sounds a bit too extreme to be credible, it starts to look different when you factor in the hidden social and environmental costs that we incur in the process of trying to build economic value, and even more so when you factor in the kinds of value we are really most interested in for our wellbeing.
Please read the report and spread the word on the value of flexible working.