Guest Blog from Alex Hirst, Co-Founder and Joint CEO of The Hoxby Collective.
Recently I – someone who founded a business that will never need an office – was invited to join the Midtown Big Ideas Exchange – London’s most dynamic series of debates – to discuss the Future of the Workplace, together with a prolific panel of business consultants and chaired by Jonathan Prynn of London Evening Standard.
Why me? Because – let’s face it – the traditional office is dead.
But I inherently believe that company culture runs deeper than bricks and mortar. And that, whilst the 9-5 is bad for one’s soul, the future holds something much more exciting.
A recent study conducted by my company, The Hoxby Collective, found that 77% of surveyed workers believe rigid office hours have negatively impacted their lives and I have seen first-hand within our community just how beneficial flexible working can be to productivity, performance and mental health.
I believe that work-life balance is key to the workforce of the future, and achieving it comes from enabling workloads to be shared among more people; something that the gig economy is in prime position to achieve, and one reason why so many people are leaving traditional employment in favour of working freelance.
In fact; It is estimated that there will be more self-employed people in the UK than are employed by the public sector within the next 12 months. This revolution to working practices is happening today and has the potential to turn the way we think about resourcing businesses on its head.
The AXA Stress Index found that fewer self-employed people said their stress came from their work life: 42% compared to 61% of company employees. But not only is it less stressful for people, it actually makes them happier: in fact 80% of those working flexibly say they are happier and more productive. This is supported by the 2014 study by Warwick University that attributed a 12% increase in productivity among happy workers.
These statistics are compelling and the reason why I firmly believe that companies need to provide the conditions for their employees to set their own terms of work (at Hoxby we call it their ‘workstyle’). The defining benefit of being freelance is to exercise control over when and where you work, and this is what the workforce of tomorrow will expect from their bosses.
The challenge presented by this monumental shift in perspective is to move the appraisal criteria of senior management away from input (hours and visibility) and into output (deliverables and efficacy).
Presenteeism is a toxic bi-product of working within a fixed time and place regime, that manifests because the current system rewards it. That system is broken and it is making people unhappy and unwell. By judging people on their output instead, we can create a level playing field that enables equality of opportunity for everyone to compete regardless of age, location, gender or ethnicity. On the debate panel Emy Rumble-Mettle (Director of Talent for GroupM UK) referred to this as a `Results Oriented Work Environment’ which they’re working towards at GroupM, but again, this is where the gig-economy serves the future of work well. It is a meritocracy by its nature, giving people the freedom and space to monetise their value in the way that suits them best.
It doesn’t matter how far into the future you like to look. My co-panellist Monica Parker (Founder of Hatch Analytics) described autonomy as one of our ‘fundamental human needs’ and the autocratic 9-5 work structure doesn’t meet this need. There is, therefore, an inevitability about the shift towards an individualised workforce that means the workplace will need to evolve too. We’re already seeing the impact of WeWork on office design, but this is just the beginning of the ‘workspace’ taking over the ‘workplace’.
The future is flexible, and with flexibility comes choice- where you work will be a question of preference and we’re already seeing the diversification of retail and hotel spaces into flexible workspaces. The cities of the future will be adapted to enable agile working; a diverse selection of inspiring, collaborative environments to suit the nature of one’s work and mood.
It is my hope that creating spaces such as these will enable more of us to achieve work-life balance in the future, and that as technology and AI evolves, we could finally detach ourselves from desks and reconnect with the world we live in.
Alex Hirst is the Co-Founder and Joint CEO of The Hoxby Collective.