The Future of Work

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.

Category: Work Structures

Work life balance doesn’t exist

Marks phone pings. Its a slack message with a document for proof reading. He opens it up on his smart phone before giving the OK for it to be distributed.

He then turns his attention back to slide deck for next weeks big presentation. The coffee he has ordered arrives and he takes a sip as the sun creeps around the corner and adds a glare to his laptop screen.

Half an hour later he is playing in the pool with his two children before they head off to kids club and he gets his head into some bugs in the code for the tool he has been building.

Did I mention Mark was on holiday? No? Thats because it doesn’t really matter.

The concept of work life balance is very quickly becoming a myth and something which doesn’t fit with the current world, and certainly not in the future.

A balance requires two opposing forces, each at odds with each other. But for success now and in the future this cannot be the case. Success in life will depend on a blend of work and play, the two intermeshing and coexisting regardless of time of day or location.

Of course, balance in life is always important. Balance of diet, health, and time spent on certain activates. But work and life cant be two separate entities in the future which are fighting against each other for your time.

I much prefer to think of life as a blend. Recipe of things I spend my time doing regardless of time of day or location.

Of course achieving this requires a certain amount of freedom. Not everyone can decide where they are and what they do from one minute to the next, which is where the divide of times comes from. But the autonomy which comes with work int he future will change this and people will need to find their own blend of life.

Creating autonomy whilst retaining specialism

In a previous post I wrote about the death of the job description and how skills are becoming far less important than attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. In order to capitalise on this, business need to rethink their ideas on business structures.

Traditional tree structures and departments don’t lend themselves to this new reality of business. Departments by their nature put people into boxes and facilitate a skills based recruitment approach.  

For most businesses of course, there are certain skills they need to make sure exist within the business.  Those that are core to the service they are delivering and without which, they wouldn’t exist.  Technical skills such as development, knowledge based businesses such as legal services.  Complex, learned skills or information which isn’t easily replicated on scale.

But moving away from skills based recruitment doesn’t mean you have to lose this.

A future of smaller, autonomous teams delivering projects is far more effective, you just need to give them the skills or knowledge base to call upon when they need it.  This is why matrix structures are becoming increasingly popular with businesses looking to move away from traditional hierarchies.

Groups of people can deliver on projects with oversight from multiply stakeholders bringing specific views and expertise.  Taking guidance from operational and skills based functions from either side of the matrix.  

It takes a while to get used to, and everyone needs to fully understand and buy into the new way of working for it to be effective, but the autonomy that such a structure allows creates a dynamism which is often lacking in more traditional organisational structures.

matrix management structure

How Can Flexi-time Work in a Service Business?

Flex-time is not a new phenomenon.  But in some sectors it is starting to become more widespread and more of a draw for potential employees.  I know of at least a handful of occasions where individuals have pulled out of an interview process I was running as they decided they couldn’t leave behind their flexible working hours.

What I have never been able to get my head around however is how flexible working can function within a service environment.  I work in the world of marketing and advertising agencies, it is a people and service business.  Our clients are contracting us for our expertise and delivery of their marketing objectives.  They also expect us to be available.  On phone, on email, in person, sometimes at very short notice.

How then can we deliver against these expectations if we don’t have an element of control of when our staff members are available?  This is the conundrum I have never managed to solve.

I can absolutely see how flexible working, and incentivised output work in piece work or where there is tangible product being produced.  Where there are volume targets to be hit, or a physical piece of work to be delivered.  So long as targets and deadlines are hit, it matters not at what time of day the work is done.

But how can you transpose this to a service based company? 

Imagine the most architypal service industry of telecoms.  How would you feel if you called your supplier only to be told nobody was around to help as they’d decided to come in late? 

Id love to be proven wrong, and if there are examples out there then let me know, but I can’t honestly see how it would work.

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