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The end of work as we know it?

Authors predict workplace "revolution" in the next decade

A revolution in work that will see many employees decide when, where and how they do their jobs could be as little as a decade away. Successful businesses will measure and reward people by results, rather than hours, and offices will shift from being nine-to-five workplaces to meeting places.

These are the ideas put forward by Senior Visiting Fellow Alison Maitland, and her co-author Peter Thomson, in a new book Future Work: How Businesses Can Adapt and Thrive in the New World of Work (Palgrave Macmillan), published this month.

Watch Alison Maitland talking about the future of work in this week's Cass Talks

The book, which draws on an international survey of Cass alumni, argues that a radical change in working practices will help businesses boost output, cut costs, speed access to new markets, and afford employees greater freedom.

"In the 21st century, we still cling to a rigid model of fixed working time and place better suited to the industrial age," says Maitland, a Senior Visiting Fellow at Cass Business School. "Long hours are often required and rewarded without any measure of the productivity involved.

"However, there is overwhelming evidence that employees are more productive if they have greater autonomy over where, when and how they work. Trusting people to manage their own work lives, individually or in teams, pays off."

The concept could see the traditional nine to five working day disappear and be replaced with a model that rewards people by performance and results, rather than hours worked and presence in the office.

At Google, engineers are already judged on what they produce, not where or when they do it. "Our engineers can work whatever hours they like," explains Matt Brittin, Google CEO, UK and Ireland, "assuming they co-ordinate with colleagues and deliver what we've agreed. They can be nocturnal."

Organisations that have switched to this model benefit from higher productivity, more motivated workers, better customer service and lower costs, say the authors.

Gap, the clothing retailer, halved the rate of loss of employees in the production and design department of its Outlet division in California when it introduced a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

"It's like being back at college," says Eric Severson, senior vice-president of HR & Communications at GAP, in a case study in the book. "People are held accountable for what they achieve rather than how much time they spend on a project or where they work." Gap executives believe the approach has given them a three-year competitive advantage.

In addition to improvements in productivity, the authors say the business benefits of 'future work' include major cost savings on real estate, particularly beneficial to business in difficult economic times, and on employee turnover and absenteeism.

They cite a study of 24,000 IBM staff worldwide which found that those with flexible working could work an extra 19 hours a week before experiencing the same levels of stress and health issues as those without it.

In the Netherlands, Microsoft has designed its building near Schiphol airport for a world in which work is independent of time and location. It is primarily made up of different spaces for meeting, with just a handful of stations for concentrated work.

A study carried out for the book suggests a switch to 'future work' could be just around the corner. A survey of more than 360 alumni from Cass and Henley Business School found that two thirds think there will be a revolution in working practices in the next decade. Nearly 90 per cent believe are more productive given autonomy over their working patterns and over 80 per cent also think new ways of working would benefit their business.

"It takes bold leadership to break with old habits, but today's workforce wants a new deal and it makes business sense to do it," says Maitland. "Organisations that have discovered this are already reaping the rewards. Those that have not are in danger of being overtaken by events."

Future Work: How Businesses Can Adapt and Thrive In The New World Of Work
Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson
Palgrave Macmillan

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