February 2, 2017

Changing workplace norms

There are record numbers of people working from home in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). When the ONS started recording the number of homeworkers in 1998, there were just 2.9 million. On last count, there were 4.2 million, accounting for 13.9% of the workforce.

It looks like the numbers of people working out of ‘the office’ is even bigger in the US – a 2015 Gallup poll found that 37% of the US workforce works remotely.

This is just one of many major changes in the modern workplace. The concept of the office, whether it’s the workplace office or home office, has changed dramatically in the past ten-15 years and it keeps on changing and evolving.

We now have multitudes of home workers, remote workers, flexible workers, part time workers, contract workers, zero contract workers… We have offices in the workplace, offices at home and virtual offices. Some businesses run with a large proportion or even their entire team working remotely. Articulate, for example, a hugely successful elearning development organisation. It was founded in 2012 by Adam Schwartz from his one bed apartment in New York in collaboration with his team of two, one based in India and the other in Missouri. Schwartz said he wanted the best two partners he could find without any geographical constraints. And that was back in 2012 – now it is even easier to connect in the virtual office space with tools such as Slack and Google Hangouts. Organisations can be successful and teams can be successful without them all being together all of the time.

On Articulate’s careers page, the company makes it clear to prospective employees just how flexible they are. It says: “Work anywhere. Work where, when and how you want. There’s no corporate office, no corporate B.S. Nothing between you and your best work”.

So organisations and individuals have a lot more freedom and flexibility to work where they want, when they want and how they want. Technology has enabled all of this. It breaks down geographical and cultural barriers and it breaks down time barriers. People can work in the evenings, on the move, from home, from work, at the same time as colleagues or asynchronously.

Technological innovations such as smartphones and videoconferencing mean that people are connected all the time. This all leads to greater productivity. Or does it? While tech should make us more productive – it has certainly sped up the pace of work and opened up a whole realm of possibilities and new ways of working – the reality is that productivity is actually declining.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity has fallen dramatically since 2007. And in the UK? Government figures show that UK productivity has been languishing since 1991. Although it returned to pre-crisis levels for the first time in 2016, it is still well behind the rest of the G7 group of leading economies.

So, is technology making us less productive, instead of more? Certainly some workers think so. There are plenty of apps available to help workers improve their productivity by restricting their access to technology. That’s why we now have articles such as this ‘6 Apps to Stop Your Smartphone Addiction.

And that’s just how technology, smartphones in particular, are affecting our behaviours at work. There is also lots of research and anecdotal evidence about how smartphones are eating into our leisure time as well, blurring the lines yet further between work and play. But that’s a whole new story….