Management 4.0 : Four ways in which work is changing

27 November 2019 -

Light tunnelWork from the beach. Never sit in a stuffy office again. Enter the swarm. Or try someone else’s job

Joe Carstairs

I haven’t had an office job in more than two years. Instead, I choose a new place every few months and work on client projects using the huge range of online tools that are specifically designed to help people like me. I could be in Birmingham, Barcelona or even Bali and, for the most part, it really doesn’t matter where I am.

To many people, this makes me a ‘digital nomad’. I’m not particularly fond of the term, but it means I’m part of a group that will swell to one billion by the year 2035, according to the founder of online resource hub Nomad List. Even if this number is wide of the mark, I have come to realise what a massive phenomenon this already is.

The community of digital nomads, remote workers and location-independent businesses is far from a ragtag band of part-time employees, tapping away on their laptops while they wait for their next yoga class to begin. On the contrary, I’ve found that it is sprinkled with a healthy cohort of highly motivated entrepreneurs and qualified individuals who are embracing unusual patterns of work within sizeable and successful companies. Here are some of their stories.

1) Office life isn’t for everyone

Take Kean Graham. This entrepreneur from Vancouver, Canada, is the founder and CEO of MonetizeMore, an ad tech company that helps online publishers to maximise the money they receive from the advertisers on their site.

The company has more than 300 clients, 137 full-time staff and precisely no offices. “The closest thing we have to an office is a mailbox,” says Graham.

He explains that this organisational structure was planned from the start. “The vision for the business was to be entirely remote, and a big part of that is my personal passion for a location-independent lifestyle,” he says.

In order to make this approach work, MonetizeMore has had to find the right people: those who are ready, willing and able to embrace the life of a remote worker. The recruitment and onboarding processes are crucial.

“Reliability matters,” he says. “We have very little tolerance for not doing what you say you will. If the excuses start early, for example missing or rearranging an interview slot at the last minute, we know they are not a good fit.”

Graham sees the location independence that the company provides as a significant advantage. Employees simply need to learn to embrace it. “They have the opportunity to engineer their own environment, and they need to take advantage of that. Self-discipline and optimisation are key. They need to look at their work environment and want to make it more efficient.”

The company holds performance reviews every six months for every employee, with appraisals based on five pillars. While two relate to the individual’s team, three are cultural characteristics – reliability, enterprising and kaizen, the Japanese concept of improvement.

These performance reviews help to determine the employee’s salary and profit share. Promotions are based on whether the employee is living the company culture and behaving as an example to others.

Graham argues that these policies are vital when it comes to managing remote workers. “If you rely on the physical environment of an office to help ensure people are present, you have more margin for error,” he says.

2) Stay at home. You’ll be much more productive

Adopting unusual patterns of work might not always be plain sailing, but one of the UK’s largest employers is giving it a go.

Since 2012, the Civil Service has been on a journey to reshape how it works. It’s all part of something it calls ‘Smarter Working’. According to Rupert McNeil, government chief people officer, flexibility is key.

“We are committed to becoming the most inclusive employer in the UK. Flexible working has an important role to play. It is already a key part of our culture and, in its different forms, is widespread in the Civil Service. We recognise its benefits in improving work/life balance and supporting health and wellbeing,” he says.

For Catherine Worswick, head of strategy and communications at the Youth Justice Board, managers need to be willing to adapt how they work and be open to new methods if they’re going to see the benefits of flexible working. “Think about scheduling key meetings on days that are best for part-time workers or job-sharers. Do not assume that part-time workers are less committed to their jobs or careers because they are not always visible. My experience is that part-time workers can be more focused because the time they have available to complete the work is reduced,” she says.

For Richard Graham, strategic lead for the Great Places to Work initiative at the Office of Government Property, the most important thing to focus on when rethinking how work works is the specific outcome you’re aiming for.

“Work is really about what you do, not where you go. Where and when you do the work does not matter. Producing outcomes to the right quality and on time does. Instead of encouraging people to be seen at their workplaces all at the same time, why not encourage them to work when and where they are most productive? It’s revolutionary!”

3) That’s it! I’m trying another job

One of the biggest challenges that managers face in adopting new patterns of work is trying to retain and support staff who want to experience more diversity than a static job for life can provide.

One firm that is trying to help other companies meet their employees’ desire for diversity is Hoppin, a job-shadowing service that matches individuals with roles they would like to try outside their company. But why would managers want to let their employees try other jobs, taking them away from day-to-day activities and maybe even leading to them choosing a different career?

According to Addison Bolin, head of business development at Hoppin, managers should see it as a way of developing their staff by exposing them to situations that they might not otherwise encounter. “Managers need to recognise that employees may be lacking in certain areas simply because they haven’t been exposed to great examples of a particular approach within their current work environment,” she says.

“They need to be self-aware enough to realise that they might not be the best person to develop their team members’ skills in every area, and that individuals from outside their company can help employees to make progress too.”

4) Welcome to the swarm

In consultancies, where project teams are formed for a period of time and then disbanded when objectives are met, agile work swarms have been a way of life for some time. Now, more and more companies are embracing the idea of engaging specific individuals for specific projects.

According to Deloitte’s Voice of the Workforce report, 37 per cent of respondents expected a substantial increase in the use of contractors by 2020, and 33 per cent expected a surge in the use of freelancers.

Will Gosling, partner and UK human capital lead at Deloitte, says that while companies may want to embrace this agile approach in order to improve their flexibility, speed to market and innovation, employees need to see those at the top leading by example.

“It’s hugely important that people see leadership working in new ways and being open to different work patterns that focus on output rather than input. Employees should be able to suggest these alternatives, whether it’s job-sharing, working a four-day week or not working a particular month of the year, all based around delivering the objectives of the project,” he says.

However, moving towards flexible work swarms comes with its own obstacles for management to navigate. For example, a project manager might be responsible for managing individuals spread around the world for the duration of a project but then might never work with those team members again.

“There needs to be an element of pastoral care overlaid on this flexible team structure to ensure individual employees have a coach or counsellor figure in their career beyond the lifecycle of a project,” Gosling says.

Joe Carstairs is currently working from Lisbon. Next stop: Cape Town

This article appears in CMI’s new-look magazine, out this month. As part of its Management 4.0 project, CMI has published a discussion paper asking for your experiences of new patterns of work. Please share your views

Image: Tom Parkes Unsplash

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