Meet the new way of working. Same as the old one?

Exactly five years ago, Imperica published an interview I gave to support my appearance at one of their events. I argued for a radically new approach to the world of work. Looking back at it after half a decade, I’m not sure how much has really changed. 

In the interview, I suggested that employers should worry less about creating a work-life balance for their employees and more about helping them to managing a work-life continuum.  I said at the time, “If you get to a reasonably senior level within an organisation, then you are never 100% away from work. Equally, you are never 100% away from the non-work parts of your life. The challenge for organisations [is to help] individuals manage their lives in that context.”

My idea was that management had been traditionally based around inputs (being in the office at certain times) but increasingly, and more intelligently, work should be based on outputs. “What is my role? What are the objectives that I have been set? I will make smart decisions about how I use my time, to deliver on those objectives. If that means that 2 hours of my working day are blown away by school runs, then that's OK; based on what I am supposed to achieve, let me make smart decisions about how that's done.”

I have been a freelancer for most of the last five years and, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, my daughter just turned five years old. In that time, I have been responsible for managing my own workload and my work is entirely defined by outputs (and their associated deadlines). None of my clients know (or care) that I am careful to avoid booking meetings on Wednesday afternoons (when I take my daughter to her swimming lesson) or that I try to carve out an hour in most working days to go to the gym (exercise being a great way for me to sharpen my concentration for the other parts of the working week).

It does mean that some of my working hours get time-shifted to evenings or weekends but, overall, I am happier and more productive as a result of having the freedom to make these choices. I said in the article, “I don't see why our working cycle should be aligned to one invented for Victorian factory workers … when technology opens up so many more possibilities.”

In the article, I also talked about a group of people that had yet to be called Millennials (“bright; working in creative industries; socially connected; and technology-savvy”) and about a brain drain of talent from a corporate environment unwilling to give them the ability to make smart choices about how they manage their work-life continuum. I warned that those companies that didn’t have a workstyle vision might have a problem attracting and retaining their best talent.

Five years on, I wonder how many organisations have made the necessary changes. I suspect it is fewer than we would all like to see. 

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