Smart Working involves several trajectories of
change. The most progressive forms take an
integrated and strategic approach, with a strong
business focus, and also support as far as possible
employee choices about where and when to work by
adopting a 'flexibility as normal' principle.
The model identifies four stages in the journey
so far - and of course as new evolve the journey
continues. It is important to emphasise that this
model is an analysis of where organisations are,
rather than mapping out a route they should take.
They should be aiming for the more mature forms of
Smart Working from the outset, wherever they find
Level 1 - Isolated initiatives
Many organisations - or departments within
organisations - introduce some features of flexible
or smart working as limited scope initiatives.
Typically these might be:
- an initiative from within HR to promote
work-life balance. It might be linked to
particluar issues over staff retention
(especially after maternity leave), or an
awareness of unbalanced recruitment. It might be
linked to a strategic objective about becoming
an employer of choice. There will be some
flexible working options offered as part of the
solution, but is probably regarded as an
employee benefit and a departure from the normal
way of working.
- a desk-sharing initiative - perhaps called
something like 'non-territorial working' but
known by sceptical employees as 'hotdesking'.
This may be driven by property rationalisation,
and an awareness of the under-utilisation of
individually-assigned desks. without a more
strategic approach to mobility, remote working
and office redesign, it won't deliver the
benefits it could do
- enhanced mobility - some employees, probably
field workers and managers, are given new IT
tools and some permissions to be more mobile,
perhaps even working from home sometimes.
However, without changes to the working culture,
to processes and to office design the benefits
will be limited.
- ad hoc homeworking - some people, probably
managers and autonomous professionals, are
allowed to work occasionally form home. This
will either be for personal reasons, e.g.
waiting in for the plumber, childcare
emergencies or to get the peace and quiet to
finish work uninterrupted. Typically IT,
processes and communications are not optimised
to support this. For many this is their
experience of homeworking, and can be a reason
to doubt its value in a more strategic approach.
Some of these initiatives may be the first steps
towards more advanced kinds of Smart Working. But
often it is hard to scale up from them. And they can
give people some misleading ideas about the
potential for working more effectively. For example,
remaining heavily paper-based in the office puts the
brakes on working more effectively when out of the
office. Sometimes people will say, 'We tried that,
and it didn't work'.
Level 2 - Basic flexibility
At this level there is a more coherent framework
for flexible working. Policies may be in place, and
more concerted programmes to support flexible
Typically, however, it has more of an employee
focus than a business efficiency focus. Policies
will be in place to support employees who request to
work flexibly. Line managers will be given
responsibilities and sometimes advice for saying yes
or no to requests.
In countries like the UK where there is
legislation to give employees a 'right to request'
flexible working, policies and procedure may focus
on compliance with the law.
There may be positive programmes to encourage
uptake, and these may introduce the idea of their
being potential business benefits. But often the
policies are framed somewhat negatively, e.g. that
flexibility is permissible when it doesn't harm the
business; what to do if it all goes wrong; how to
deal with poor performance (etc)
At the end of the day, while it may be
well-motivated in principle the approach is
essentially reactive. Reacting to individual
requests, and leaving flexibility to the initiative
of individual employees.
On this basis there may be many benefits and a
growth in understanding of the potential for working
smarter. But from a business perspective, it is
probably all very unstrategic. Having strategies for
the workplace, the workforce and the deployment of
new technologies on this reactive basis to how,
where and when people work is almost impossible. A
different approach is needed to inject some 'smart'
into the 'flexibility'.
Level 3 - Advancing flexibility and the
beginning of Smart Working
This level of smart/flexible working is where
many organisations involved in some forms of business
transformation find themselves at the moment.
They will probably have some of the connecting
pillars of progress in place, with an IT roadmap for
introducing new technologies for mobility, a
property rationalisation programme and some office
redesign to promote more sharing and collaboration
in offices, movement towards electronic processes,
enabling policies and a more strategic approach that
highlights the benefits of working in a smarter or
more agile way.
Compared to leading-edge companies, this level
can be characterised as Smart Working from around
2004 - a decade behind the state-of-the-art. Yet
there are still companies that have limited
ambitions and so will not reap the potential
Implementations may be partial or patchy across
the organisation, with different parts moving at
different speeds depending on managerial enthusiasm
Traditional practices sit alongside the new ways
of working, and can sometimes be incorporated in
programme, e.g. by profiling employees in rigid
role-categories such as 'fixed, 'flexible' and
'mobile', rather than looking closely at the tasks
involved in their work and having smarter forms of
This kind of approach often adopts a 'build it
and they will come' approach. That is, a lot of the
focus is on building the platform for Smart Working
- the technologies and the office work environment -
and the realisation comes too late that the most
important changes needed are in mindset and work
Level 4 - Smart Working
State of the art Smart Working is characterised
by a strategic and integrated approach. It has a
stronger focus on delivering business benefits by
rethinking the ways in which people work. This
involves challenging all assumptions about how work
is traditionally done, and developing a new working
culture based on trust and management by results.
So the key features of this advanced stage of
Smart Working are:
- Clear and comprehensive strategy for working
in smart/agile ways, linked to defined business
- flexibility as normal
- use of space aligned with actual need
- trust-based culture and management by
- high focus on collaboration, but traditional
meetings are reduced
- high autonomy for employees to make
decisions about the most effective teim and
places to get work done
range of 'activity-based' work settings rather than
1:1 assigned desks in the office
- people enabled to work effectively beyond
- paper processes replaced by electronic ones,
available beyond company offices
- work is much less resource-intensive
- routine travel is minimised
- culture of innovation in working techniques,
collaboration and technologies.
Achieving this level has probably involved a
strong leadership commitment and leading by example.
And the programme of transformation is characterised
by an integrated approach involving the People,
Property and Technology functions, adopting a common
set of principles and common roadmap.
The journey continues
There isn't an endpoint to the journey into Smart
A key part of Smart Working is openness to the
future - and being ready to embrace new techniques,
technologies and workspace innovations as they
emerge and make a positive contribution to working