We have lived for the last 200 years with a model of work that involved a fixed contract of employment for the majority of employees. In exchange for an individual’s time an employer is prepared to pay them to do a job. That is usually based on a fixed number of hours per week and a fixed location to do the work.

Now, however, we have technology that allows us to do a high percentage of work without having to be in a fixed place. We also have flexible working schemes that allow people to vary the hours that they work. But we still suffer from rigid work patterns based on the assumption that the norm is fixed time and fixed place. Any other arrangement is an exception to the rule.

Employment legislation reinforces this assumption. People now have a right to ‘request’ flexible working from their employer on the basis that they are asking for something out of the ordinary. The ‘norm’ is still seen as a contract that defines the time and place of work and any variation on this is a concession by the employer and a ‘benefit’ for employees. Well, maybe this is about to change.

On November 9th the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) launched a report ‘A Better Off Britain’ in which it calls for employers to “Challenge outdated assumptions around flexible working in firms and, where possible, adopt a presumption in favour of flexibility from job advert onwards, to help employees manage their work-life balance effectively, including childcare costs.” So, they are saying that flexibility should be taken as the norm. They are also implying that it should be offered to new recruits (‘from job advert onwards’) as well as existing employees. So it’s not something an employee has to earn or only get after 6 months in the job, it’s the basis of the relationship from day one.

Managers will struggle to adjust to this new regime. It’s harder to exercise control over people if they choose when and where to do their work, But is should be easier to motivate them and engage them by showing they are trusted.  There are also practical issues to be addressed and one current initiative that will help is the re-write of the teleworking handbook. This will help to reassure managers and employees that the new world of work, where flexibility is the norm, is not a recipe for chaos.

The handbook is being funded through a crowdsourcing initiative which will only succeed if there are enough backers. If you would like to support this initiative from the Telework Association you can do so for as little as £5.00.