As we plan for recovery and build back better, how can the digital sector and tech help to reshape places and improve outcomes for citizens?
The 9-5 is dead. The past few months have not seen an evolution, but a revolution in our ways of working. For millions of office workers across the country, the traditional routine of commuting, working 9-5 then once again commuting home has been uprooted; in short shrift we have replaced it with more fluid, work from home environment. So, is this for the long-term? What sort of an impact can such a change have? And how can organisations optimise their future ways of work for the benefits of their employees?
What is the likely long-term impact of the past few months? In my view, we will not ever go back to the Monday-Friday 9-5 setup as before. Neither are we likely to stay entirely working from home. The future balance likely lies somewhere in the middle. Short, sharp, concentrated sessions in-office and in person, with the rest of work done from the comfort of our own homes. This opens huge opportunities to improve our quality of life.
The average commuter spends 58.4 minutes per day commuting, on an annual basis that works out to over 10 days spent just getting to/from work. This is a huge amount of largely dead time across the whole workforce – with 32.81 million people in work in 2019, as Britons we spend over 925 thousand man-years commuting per year. Even if the new, flexible way of working reduced that by 1/3 or ½, that is a staggering amount of time to unlock. All that time would now be available to spend as people choose – looking after their children, exercising, playing sports, working, learning new skills, managing side-businesses, or simply relaxing! All of which are beneficial for our collective wellbeing and prosperity.
Flexible working does not have to mean the same 9-5 schedule, with the place of work moved from the office to a kitchen, living room, home office or café. When we build back better, why not empower employees to choose their own schedule, and judge on outputs not inputs? Let us finally put a bullet in facetime culture. This change can drive productivity improvements – employees can work when it best suits them. If they would benefit from a break in the middle of the day to exercise over lunch, or meet a friend, or nip to the shops, before returning with greater focus – why not?
A great deal of us have experienced unexpected interruptions in our Zoom / Teams meetings over the past few months, and if we have not, we have seen the clips of live interruptions of interviews on the BBC. In a short period, we have embraced these interruptions as an ordinary part of the work environment. We can harness this and push it forward into the new normal as a major driver of equality. Parents have often had to sacrifice work to look after the children – this no longer needs to be the case. Parents can work flexibly and look after children from home, moving working hours to suit childcare requirements. While we have made great steps over the past few decades, statistics show that women still bear the brunt of the sacrifices required to bring up children. By the time children are aged 20, mothers earn 30% less than fathers. While the increase from 66% of mothers in employment in 2000, to 75% in 2019 represents a significant improvement; this still lags the figure for men – 89% and 93% for 2000 and 2019 respectively. If we can embrace the flexible working, or work from home parent, this removes many of the barriers to equality and narrowing the motherhood pay gap.
All these changes are tech driven. None of it would have been possible 30, or even 20 years ago. The changes are driven through the continued embracement of the Zooms, Slacks and Teams of this world, and implementations of easily remote-accessible cloud storage & data processing. IT must form an integral part of the future of all organisations, at the forefront of their successes, and driving the future of work.
We can harness this opportunity, driving changes in the future of work to rethink our habits and ensure improved outcomes in productivity, business activity, leisure, and equality. It is up to us, and senior leaders across the country to rethink how we do things, and change for the better.