Kirsty Butcher

Power to the people

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KIRSTY BUTCHER

The workforce is changing. Tech is turning the tide and offering workers fresh choice and increased power.

Attitudes to productivity are shifting; employers are seeing that providing more options, flexibility and better environments for workers can have a significant and positive impact on output. This, and a fight to retain talent amid a background of higher expectations from workers, is powering a change in how businesses manage their staff. And it’s tech that’s enabling the paradigm shift at such a fast speed.

Artificial Intelligence, robotics and automation are changing the way we allocate tasks and plan our days. Thanks to the Cloud, we can now work at any time and location, offering the potential for a vastly different make-up of a working week. What this means for a new norm of work life is ready for shaping.

This week at the Trades Union Congress, there have been calls for a tech-enabled shorter working week at full pay. The idea is that technology can save time for workers, but rather than fill this newly-free time with other tasks, workers can enjoy a better work-life balance that will help them to be more productive during their working hours. This opens employers up to a new skillset. Those skilled workers who aren’t available for a 5-day working week, due to caring or childcare responsibilities and other commitments or preferences, could be accessed by employers who are willing to be more flexible.

According to Claremont, 70% of UK organisations are now participating in flexible working to some degree. PwC recently upped the ante with a flexible working recruitment programme, as part of a drive to attract a more diverse workforce. The programme allows candidates to apply for work at PwC based on their skillset, and to pick a working pattern that suits their lifestyle, rather than applying for a specific job vacancy. More than 2,000 people applied to the programme within the first fortnight. The demand is there.

These kind of initiatives not only help employers tap into a new skilled workforce group, but they also help companies to improve staff wellbeing – one of the hottest property topics around at the moment.

We’re seeing developers shape buildings around the occupiers and focus their efforts into creating spaces that empower the user. Tech systems allow workers to engage with their buildings in different ways, enabling them to have more control around their surroundings and customise their workstation. Increasingly, staff are able to adjust the temperature and lighting in their part of the office, and have input into how their environment is designed. A recent study by the University of Exeter found that employees who have control over their workspace layout are more productive by 38%. You can read more about the idea of workspace control and design in this great article from SpaceZero.

Giving workers more control and power isn’t about relinquishing control of the business, it’s about empowering people with a feeling of ownership. John Lewis recently announced a brand overhaul (with of course another trademark long and adorable TV ad), re-emerging as John Lewis & Partners, to shift the focus onto staff, or partners, who each own a stake.

These moves mark a dramatic break away from the traditional ways of perceiving and managing the workforce, and point towards more choice and power.

There is still much fear to overcome around how technology plays a part in all this, particularly in terms of Artificial Intelligence and ‘robots taking our jobs’. Technology is edging its way into our work, and there’s no stopping it. But it’s worth thinking about the possibilities it opens us up to, across every level of a company. Free of the mundane tasks, we can use the time to be more balanced, or give ourselves more creative time, make better strategic decisions, meet with more people.

Let’s celebrate the choice and the power, and think about what we can do with all that extra time.

  • Kirsty Butcher is production manager at PlaceTech

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