25 October 2007
Every year the Economist magazine boldly brings out a
booklet of predictions for the year ahead. I happened across a
copy of 'The World in 2007' in a waiting room, and with a
mixture of amusement and astonishment was reminded of one of
their more left-field predictions from this time last year -
that in 2007 the flexible working "fad" would come to an end,
and that no one would talk about work-life balance any more.
In a grumpy and confidently fact-free article, the author
"In 2007 there will be a big
retreat. Flexible ways of working, hot-desking and virtual
teams will be in retreat. Here are some of the other things
that are on the way out:
- Work-life balance.
We will hear a lot less about the so-called work-life
balance, which will be just as well. This has been one
of the most pernicious and widespread of all the ideas
of flexible working. The phrase not only spawned a
thousand conferences but also created false expectations
among workers, and encouraged companies to be
disingenuous about what they wanted... The term is still
routinely used but has lost its resonance and in 2007 it
will start to sicken and die.
- Working from home.
The internet made this possible and for a while it
seemed that it might be the way of the future. But it
didnít work well, either for the person at home or for
those in the office. Those at home got disconnected from
what was happening, while those at work suspected those
at home of skiving, and teams failed to gel.
- Part-time working.
There may still be some of this in certain jobs, but in
competitive professions and in management it will be
full-time or nothing.
- Job shares.
Forward-looking employers used to pretend to be in
favour of job shares, but in 2007 it will become
acceptable to say in public that actually they often
Here are some of the landmarks in flexible
working in 2007 so far:
Around 3.5 million people now work regularly
from home - 12% of the workforce
Research from the Small Business Federation
finds 41% of micro-businesses are home-based
A new "right to request" flexible work is
introduced for carers of dependent adults, supplementing the
existing right to request of parents of young or disabled
Government ministers say that this right
should be extended everyone in the workforce
David Cameron makes flexible work, work-life
balance and well-being central to the New Conservatism
Flexible work is embedded in the
government's 'transformational government' programme
Work Wise UK, the national campaign aiming
to get 50% of the workforce working flexibly gathers
strength, with endorsement from the CBI, TUC, British
Chambers of Commerce and leading lights of the political
The Smart Work Network is launched, a new
way to share best practice in implementing flexible work
Planning policy at local regional, and
national level starts to endorse homeworking and live/work
space as sustainable ways to grow the economy
Today, 25th October, the Guardian newspaper
has a special supplement on flexible work - a testimony to
the growing market around this issue.
As we move into November, we find our events
diary is full of conferences about flexible work - a regional
launch of Work Wise East near Cambridge, another regional event
in the Northwest supported by the Regional Development Agency,
and a couple of big events in London. I fear the spawning
of the conferences is still going on!
All this points to the rise and rise of flexible
working. And the encouraging sign is that we've moved
beyond the talking phase to the doing phase.
I just wonder what the Economist will predict on
this front for 2008?
As the Christmas season is upon us in the shops, and the clocks
prepare to go back, we know the year is coming to an end.
It's a good time for some (possibly premature) reflections on
how flexible working has progressed in 2007.
It seems for the Economist last year's Christmas
season was a time for some unreconstructed traditional thinking,
as they predicted a retreat from flexible work and a flight back
to old ways of working in 2007.
We take a look at what actually happened.