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Writing the British Standards Code of Practice for Smart Working

Comment from the author of PAS 3000, Andy Lake of

(Article from January 2016)

Note: All central government departments and agencies in the UK are now mandated to implement Smart Working as specified in PAS 3000 by June 2022

Smart Working – what is it?

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 (BSI) 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 refusing.

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.

Rethinking assumptions

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 and technology.

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 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 UK 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 (and pleasing!) 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 draft content.

I am sure the final result has benefited greatly 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 Smart Working.