This blog is contributed by Shirley Wakelin, Wisework Partner. It is based on a discussion amongst the Partners.
The past decade has seen increasing noise around new ways of working. Concepts such as agile, flexible, activity based working, employee engagement, company culture etc are ever more commonplace.
It’s a big topic.
As a group of consultants sharing an interest in supporting organizations through transformational change, the Wisework partners network reflected on what we mean by ‘New Ways of Working’, and what’s driving companies to invest in making these changes. The following summarizes highlights emerging from an initial round table in December 2017. News ways of working, by definition, are not the old ways of working. Much of what we see in organizations today grew out of the industrial age, and many companies are still operating in ways echoing the 19th century. New ways of working is about designing systems fit for the 21st century and beyond.
The concept of time is a key shift. Going to a place of work 9 to 5, or for set shifts, and time being a measurement, has changed considerably. Now the focus is more on output, with the emphasis moving toward the individual choosing how and when they deliver on expectations.
Another difference is place of work. With technological advances, people no longer need to be in the office to deliver their work. The introduction of flexible working practices appears to be growing trend. That said, the group observed that the effectiveness of these policies varies significantly, all too often ‘flexibility’ is, in reality, extremely limited.
The contractual relationship is also evolving. The conventional way has been a fixed job, full-time, permanent. The new way is seeing an emergence of a looser contractual relationship, the ‘gig economy’, where people own their time, and are paid for the product, services or outputs they deliver.
So time, place and contract were noted as three major shifts, and there are other perhaps more subtle changes emerging; the nature of management and leadership for example. Management historically has been about overseeing the work. This ‘taskmaster’ mindset is about knowing what needs to be done and directing employees to deliver. The word control emerged; controlling time, controlling what, controlling when, controlling where.
A different mindset is emerging now; it’s about helping people to do what they need to do, where they need to do it, and when. It’s about facilitating performance excellence, learning and growth. It’s about enabling employees to adapt. It’s about bringing the best out of people.
The group acknowledged that this shift in mindset is creating challenges for some; the fear that without control, chaos will ensue. In many ways, the new way of working is asking managers to become leaders; to engage people in a shared vision and guide them along the way.
Importantly, the group recognized that there’s no ‘one size fits all’. A new way of working will be informed by multiple facets; the heritage and history of a company, the people employed, the infrastructure and resources available, the customers, competitive environment etc. Each of these has a role to play in defining the way a company needs to operate to thrive in the future. It’s an evolutionary process.