The future of work as we know it

iStock_000019212329_xSmallThe cliché of 9 to 5 is so last century it seems. Whilst many companies still adhere to the culture of clocking in and out at certain times of the day, flexible working is fast becoming the norm.And it is not just companies that are changing. Individuals are shifting their attitudes to employment too. According to Forbes, almost one third of Americans are working as freelancers in some capacity, whether full-time or ‘moonlighting’ outside their regular job.This shift in working culture has huge implications for companies, and it is those who embrace this change that will benefit in the long run.Cegos Asia Pacific recently conducted a survey to establish the 5 key drivers for success as we head to the 2020s workplace. The third of these addresses the Future of Work As We Know It, and reveals some interesting insights into how all our working lives are changing – for good and for bad.Technology, of course, is largely responsible for the new opportunities for working flexibly. Remote working is now much more acceptable than it was even 10 years ago, and increasingly employed by people working on collaborative projects.In our survey, 72% of respondents believe that offices will act as mobile working hubs in the future, with no further need for the expensive offices that dominate today’s workplace.Instead, people will increasingly work independently, only meeting with colleagues and clients when necessary. Even meetings are being held remotely these days, with people using platforms like Skype and GoToMeeting more comfortably and confidently than ever before.The advantages of independent working are clearly good for the employee or freelancer. Working from home or in a co-working space – an increasingly popular model – mean that the cost of commuting (financially, time-wise and psychologically) is significantly reduced.Flexibility also improves motivation, although requires some discipline on behalf of the worker. 85% of respondents agreed that working hours in the future will become more flexible, operating in short bursts and often remotely.Indeed, the idea of ‘clocking in’ seems alien to a new generation who, according to research, are motivated more by personal freedom and an aspiration to create something than by material concerns. That is not to say that money is not a motivator, just that it is less of an incentive than the act of achieving something worthwhile. Flexible working takes out the rigidity of the traditional working environment, and makes achieving the task the main focus, rather than on how many hours are worked for the remuneration.According to our survey, not everyone is prepared for this big shift in working patterns. 56% agreed with the statement that Generation Y (born 1977-94) and Generation Z (born after 1995) are not being adequately prepared to deal with the new working paradigm. Schools and, to a lesser extent, universities disregard the need to teach skills of independent working – particularly in the areas of discipline and the productive use of time. This concern was especially prevalent in the Asia Pacific region, where traditional forms of working are still seen as the norm.With increasing globalisation, companies that fail to adapt to the flexible working model, and train their staff accordingly, could lose out to companies that are more agile and creative.This is a challenge to managers – both current and future – and should be addressed. Creating a future-oriented mind-set is key to empowering employees to work more productively. In addition, staff should be trained to unlearn outmoded knowledge and ways of working, instead being given the confidence to relearn and adapt to a changing environment.Communication is hugely important for flexible working to be successful. Clear expectations from managers, and motivation from leaders, make the process much more productive for everyone. Managers should therefore put a premium on sharpening their own communication skills, as well as those of their staff.Flexible working, of course, does have its disadvantages for the employer. Decision making is more difficult when it takes time and effort to assemble all parties in a project. Lack of face-to-face communication can also lead to more conflict or difficulty in resolving problems that naturally arise.For employees, too, the blurring of work and personal life can cause stress and unrealistic expectations – emails expected to be answered over the weekend, for example.Yet the advantages of flexible working for both employers and employees far outweigh the disadvantages. When a company adopts a ‘flexible-hours’ policy, employees tend to work better, are happier and more productive. It also saves on operating costs.As long as managers train staff to work productively, and set realistic expectations and goals, the advantages of flexible working can be realised and the disadvantages mitigated to some extent.This is, after all, the future of the workplace as we know it. And not the ‘9 to 5’ of old.