Comment from the author of PAS 3000, Andy Lake of
Smart Working is a business-savvy approach to
workplace flexibility. It is an integrated and
strategic approach to flexible working, bringing
together changes in technology and new concepts in
workplace design with aspirations for more choice
and a more manageable work-life interface.
But how best do you advise people what they
should do to implement Smart Working? In a new and
inter-disciplinary field with a high premium on
innovation, that’s quite a challenge. But it’s what
I had to take on when writing PAS 3000: Code of
Practice for Smart Working* for the British
Standards Institute and the UK Cabinet Office.
Flexible working has grown up over the last 20
years for the most part as ‘flexibility by
exception’, even where organisations have good
policies around allowing people to work flexibly.
That is, there is a default ‘normal’ way of
working, and people can ask to have a different
working pattern. In many countries such as the UK,
this ‘right to request’ is supported by legislation.
Employers don’t have to agree to the request, but in
principle should have a good business reason for
Smart Working by contrast aims to reach a
position of ‘flexibility as normal’. Work takes
place at the most appropriate times and locations
for the tasks involved – it’s all about the tasks
involved, not about changing the working patterns
for a whole role.
How one assesses the most appropriate times and
locations involves taking into account the needs of
the business, the customer, cost-effectiveness,
collaboration needs, the tools available and the
preferences of the individual. What it doesn’t
involve is the preference of line managers simply
for having people lined up in rows in front of them.
So it’s all about management by results rather
than by presence, and treating employees like adults
within a trust-based working culture.
It also involves rethinking assumptions about a
whole load of traditional concepts about work –
rethinking what the workplace is, rethinking
meetings, rethinking what ‘face to face’ means,
rethinking traditional processes – even rethinking
what desks are for.
This makes it potentially a complex and
interdisciplinary field, taking on simultaneous
changes to culture, working environments, processes
and technologies. Tackling any of these in isolation risks not only failure but making working life
worse for employees and the business alike.
And businesses, public sector and not-for-profit
organisations need to get it right. Hence the need
for the Code of Practice.
The challenge from the writing point of view –
especially in such a fast-moving field – is to
create an authoritative and balanced framework doing
justice to each of the key areas of people, property
Backed by government
The initiative for the new guidance comes from
the UK government. There has been an urgent need to
improve the way government is run and reduce its
costs, to deliver much better value for the tax
payer and for ‘customers’ of government services.
But government also from the economic development
point of view also has a duty to businesses to
support best practice. So the UK Cabinet Office
commissioned the British Standards Institute and
Flexibility.co.uk to develop the Code of Practice.
The Code builds upon earlier guidance in the
Smart Working Handbook and the Civil Service’s The
Way We Work – A Guide to Smart Working in
Government. In one sense it toughens up the guidance
in these documents by making strong recommendations
about the best ways forward, and by tightening
definitions around terminology.
Growing consensus about what is good practice
And the document has been developed with the help
of a Steering Group comprising experts and leading
companies in the field, including from Cabinet
Office, Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development, Department of Health, Henley Business
School, Local Government Association, Microsoft,
Ministry of Justice, UCL Bartlett Faculty of the
Built Environment, AMA Alexi Marmot Associates Ltd,
Vodafone and Working Families. The Steering Group
revisions were followed by an extensive public
consultation, bringing in insights and comments from
across the fields of workplace, HR and IT.
As an exercise in writing and editing, taking on
board the many comments and critiques has been
challenging. But what was perhaps most surprising
was the general consensus amongst the consultees
about the content and direction of travel. On the
whole, with the hundreds of comments on the various
stages of the draft, the greatest challenge was what
to leave out rather than substantially altering the
I am sure the final result has benefited from the
knowledge and insight of so many experienced people.
What does it mean for organisations?
Many organisations have introduced initiatives
around flexible working, introducing technologies
for mobility, or modernising workplaces. Too often
these initiatives are not integrated and work to
separate timelines. So it may be time for ‘review
and reboot’. To see where you are in terms of Smart
Working maturity, get hold of PAS 3000 and plan your
strategic and integrated way forward into successful