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Book review: Future Work by Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson

25th Jul 2014
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Working life for many people involves turning up for a certain number of hours a week, often in a set pattern. It is their time that is paid for rather than the actual work that they do. They could be sitting at their desk for 8 hours, with no productive work actually taking place. With the rapid development of technology enabling people to work anywhere and at any time, the authors question whether this is a model that should continue.

The authors cite certain research into employee retention, assessing why people leave a job and what would help them stay, finding strong evidence that work flexibility was one of the main factors. As more people who have grown up with technology enter employment, there is a greater expectation on employers to use the technology to benefit both worker and company. Throughout the book there are examples in each section of how employers have adapted in different ways to attract people who are not able, or do not want, to work to fixed times. These include the companies that have embraced technology to work for them, so workers do not have to physically be in a particular place for set times.

There is acknowledgement that certain jobs do actually need the person to be present to complete tasks at a particular time, healthcare being one of the prime examples. However, even in this, the ability for staff to work more flexibly is not impossible. Reform to the traditional pattern of work has already started to happen. Payment is not by time, but by results, and employees are encouraged to work in a place that enables high productivity. This is ‘Future Work’ and is based on Douglas McGregors Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X is that people have to be forced to work by constant management and Theory Y is that people are self-motivated and can manage themselves.

The book then goes into detail about the different aspects of future work, why it makes sense, the type of leaders and managers needed, different types of workplace available and the importance of culture. The Strategies for Change chapter starts off with barriers, giving the five TRUST principles as guidelines - Trust your people, Reward results, Understand the business case, Start at the top and Treat people as individuals. It then moves on to discuss each of these and the skills needed to progress with this model. What needs to happen as an organisation and individually to make Future Work possible is then covered with examples of how organisations have managed some or all aspects of this.

The book concludes with proposals for what might happen in the future world of work, which is rather difficult to predict but some organisations are already moving in this direction with their Future Work.

Future Work is a revolution in how, when and where we work. Although some working environments cannot adopt some of the ideas, they could take on certain aspects to increase employee engagement and motivation. My present role (clinical IT trainer in the NHS) is based on payment for time. However, my manager embraces flexibility as much as possible and on several occasions I have worked from home at times to suit me, for example 6.30am to 2.30pm or 7am to 4pm with a break at 9am for an appointment. She is also keen to give further autonomy to her staff and trusts us to get the job done. I will be passing the book on to her and hope that we can utilise more of the ideas in it in the future. I would rate the book 9/10.


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