Its Work But Not As We Know It [Download]


FREE Download: The impacts of the emerging world of work on business, government and public policy

We know that the world of work is changing fast. But where is it taking us over the next ten years? And how will it impact wider society? Are there things that need to change in public policy to get up to speed with current changes and maximise the potential benefits?

These are the questions examined in a pioneering study by, with support from Plantronics, Citrix and Vodafone. The results of the study were launched at a conference at the Department for Business in Westminster in 2014. It’s a prescient report that was way ahead of its time, and still maintains its relevance especially as we look to the future after the pandemic.



The world of work is changing fast. And the impacts of this ripple far beyond the workplace.

Changes happening now and which will be intensified over the next decade are:

  • The rise and rise of flexible working patterns, driven by aspirations for a better life and organisations seeking more efficiency: the dominant trends are towards more part-time working and home-based working
  • Major adjustments in who does what and the skills needed in the workforce as virtualisation, robotics and artificial intelligence take over process work and bring new ways of doing complex and precision tasks
  • Workplaces being transformed to be centres of collaboration rather than desk work
  • New collaboration and communication technologies that support people working anywhere
  • Cloud technologies supporting rapid innovation and new models of enterprise
  • Demographic change leading to people wanting or needing to work past traditional retirement age – but in flexible ways or running a business.

These changes are challenging traditional certainties about the spaces we need for work, and blurring the boundaries between workplace, public spaces, and the home. So we need to break away from the 20th century industrial age models of how work is organised, and how work fits into society as a whole.

These trends are examined in more detail in the report, with evidence and case studies from around the world.

The future fabric of work

The right approach is not to think in terms of the past, slightly modified by current trends. Instead we should be looking ahead ten years, and thinking, “Where could this all take us by 2024? And where would we like it to take us?”

Where it could take us is summarised in our checklist for the fabric of work in 2024:

  • Workplaces as primarily centres for collaboration and interaction
  • Full integration of physical and virtual offices
  • Workplace culture – flexibility as normal
  • Ubiquitous connection
  • Intelligent environments supporting work, in the workplace and beyond
  • Local work centres (workhubs, coworking) supporting employees, self-employed and start-ups
  • Homes optimised with flexible space for work as-needed/as-desired
  • More local working supported by planning for local services in walkable communities
  • Companies work with more geographically distributed workforce – both employees and contingent workforce
  • Routine travel for work minimised
  • Recruitment supports flexible work patterns and long distance working
  • Routine work tasks automated
  • Support for new enterprises in growth sectors as the workforce ‘hollows out’
  • Infrastructure of skills training on-demand, as the nature of work keeps evolving.

For businesses these changes offer the prospect of being able to do more with less physical resource, be much more adaptable to changing markets and innovate more effectively. But these benefits won’t be achieved without adopting a mindset for transformation that recognises the scope of the changes taking place.

Businesses should adopt completely new approaches to where people work, moving away from 20th century factory models of work organisation. They should think of being able to work more or less from anywhere, and recruit the talent they need from anywhere without necessarily requiring relocation.

They should adopt a model of ‘spaceless growth’ when looking to expand. For small businesses this means operating without a traditional office, starting up from home and using the ‘office as needed’ in workhubs or coworking centres.

Transforming the way governments work

Governments need to transform the ways in which they work, and like all businesses press ahead with implementing Smart Working. This means not only driving out paper processes, but evolving towards a ‘bureauless bureaucracy’.

New technologies should be used to support remote and hybrid meetings, with remote collaboration the default option rather than travel and physical meetings, except where it adds significant value. Elected officials, including Members of Parliament – should be at the forefront of this.

Travel and expenses can be greatly reduced by using modern conferencing technologies for committee work and taking part in debates and votes. This would enable representatives to remain more closely connected with their local constituents.

A new approach to public policy

Public policy needs urgently to be modernised.  At the moment the emerging world of work is being choked by policies for economic development, skills, planning, transport and housing that were devised for the industrial age. In particular the assumption that work and home life should be entirely separate has to be reversed.  Key recommendations include:

  • Designation of land for employment needs to be rethought and the default separation in planning policy between homes and workplaces needs to end.
  • Public authorities should welcome and support the establishment of workhubs/coworking spaces
  • Home as a centre of enterprise should be made a central plank of economic growth policies and policies for localism
  • New employment-focused approaches to housing density need to be developed, as current approaches to high density are at odds with the changing nature of work. Planning needs to take account of the home and the garden as spaces for economic activity and self-sufficiency.
  • The design of homes should include the potential to work effectively from home, and a proportion of all homes should be live/work spaces where people can run a business
  • Government should aim to have excellent, rather than barely adequate, communications infrastructure. And there needs to be a strategy for being ahead of the game rather than playing catch-up.
  • This infrastructure is essential for people to work wherever they are, and can help to reverse the decline of less favoured areas. It should be a key part of all policy for regeneration and rural development
  • Virtual mobility – ‘travelling by not moving’ needs to be a core element of transport policy. The focus needs to move away from changing the way people travel to eliminating the need for many routine journeys. The cost would be fraction of the costs of high speed rail, with much greater impacts for sustainability.

It’s time to embrace the future positively, rather than try to fit the new world of work into the structures of yesterday.