The ‘Job for Life’ is Long Gone — Now is the Office Dead?
There is no doubt that the nature of work is changing.
The ‘job for life’ is long since dead and buried, and although there was an extended period of mourning, especially among the baby boomer generation, the upcoming ranks of millennials (and — don’t say it too loudly — Generation Z, who are hitting intern age now), are unlikely to grieve for what they never had. So we no longer expect to stay with one employer, but are more likely to seek out a variety of opportunities, including — statistically — one complete career change over our lifetime.
The ways in which we work are also changing. The increased importance placed on flexibility by Gen Y, coupled with changes in the economic situation and improvements in communications technology, has led to flexible working, home working and remote working of all forms being far more common. But does this mean that the office is dead?
No more water cooler moments?
Working outside of the office is pretty commonplace these days — in the US, according to the latest available figures (which are 2013, so can be assumed to be on the low side), over a million government workers were eligible to work remotely. That’s over 47% of government employees in jobs which could be completed in whole or part from home, on the move, or from another site. Given that government agencies are not known to be early adopters, the figures across private sector companies are likely to be even more striking — despite some well known objectors to remote working, such as Marissa Meyer, who famously banned home working at Yahoo.
In the UK official figures show around 60% of businesses have remote workers among their numbers, and 90% offer flexibility of some sort — whether that be in time, location or style of work.
Working from home brings intuitive benefits, not least losing the hassle and cost of commuting, but you do doubtless miss out on some of the water cooler moments that can be the spark of ideas, and innovation at work.
So, on balance, what are the benefits, and downsides to having a remote workforce, and what does the employee gain from this sort of flexibility in working style?
In October 2014, British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ hosted a round table discussion about the use of home working in the UK. Heads of businesses from various private sector employers debated the pros and cons of home and remote working, and concluded that there were certainly benefits, but this change in working style needs a change in management thinking to help it flourish.
Among the benefits highlighted in the discussion was the death of ‘presenteeism’ — the need to be seen to be present in the office at all hours, a cultural phenomenon common in many companies, which ironically leads to poor productivity as employees are tired and lacking focus due to the long office hours.
The cultural shift towards remote and flexible working appears to be moving businesses away from this long hours culture, as employees work from home, and everyone knows that — with the benefit of better communications technology — they could be contacted should the need really arise.
The round table also discussed the importance of trust in remote working — employees must understand the disciplines of work, and managers must be able to trust their teams to deliver — an education on both parts.
This could be particularly challenging for younger employees just hitting the workforce, without much experience of working in an office before switching to working remotely — not only would the sense of ‘rhythm’ in the office be lost, with routines and structures missed, the sense of inclusion and community gained form working in a real life team, could damage their ability to work effectively.
Not dead, but altered
The employers present at the round table discussion agreed that any change in working style would work best if employees felt part of the journey in designing the ‘new world’; and ultimately the changes taking place in the nature of work should be aimed at giving more choices to employees, rather than forcing change on them.
Perhaps it is too early to say that the traditional office nine to five is dead, but it is certainly evolving.
Alongside other methods of flexible working such as sabbaticals, career breaks and personalised shift patterns, remote working will be one of the things that shapes the professional world for the next decade, as changing technology, changing generations and changing priorities combine to move our expectations and experience of work.
About The Author
Claire Millard, Group Personnel Manager at Tesco, is currently on a sabbatical and exploring her passion for writing with Jobbatical.com