Work-life integration (1)

Work-life integration: it’s a digital thing

Traditionally, just like computer code, work was pretty much a binary thing. It was, quite simply, a matter of on or off. A traditional working day would be 010 – ie off, on, off. You turned up and switched on at 9 and then switched off again at 5.

Today our working day is much more likely to read like a computer programme – eg 01010101010101010. That’s because the boundaries between life and work are no longer defined by sharp boundaries. And that’s down to digital transformation.

The internet age means we all increasingly expect to do things where and when we want. We used to accept that shops shut early on Wednesdays and weren’t open at all on Sundays. Now we expect to stream video 24 hours a day and buy goods and services on-line whenever we feel like it. We won’t be constrained as consumers – and our concept of time is increasingly defined by the click. We get instant gratification or we go elsewhere.

The upshot of all this is that work has to change too. Just ask all those people in retail who work Sundays – or even nightshifts in supermarkets that stay open 24 hours a day. Our demands as consumers shape the way organisations have to increasingly reorganise work. That reorganisation has fed the boom of zero hours contracts and the gig economy as businesses have to be able to turn capacity on and off in infinitely variable ways to match the ever changing and increasingly unpredictable demands of customers.

When Chiumento was started back in 1994, the decision was made to adopt a fully associate delivery model. We were ‘gigging’ but didn’t know it – the term didn’t come into general use until 2009.

Interestingly, PWC’s NexGen research suggests that flexibility in how and when they work is a major motivator for Gen Y. In fact, it seems more important than money. And remember, GEN Y’s will be around 50% of the workforce by 2020.

The disjoint that we increasingly see is that employers demand more flexibility on one hand – yet reject it on the other. They want people to be responsive to the realities of ever more demanding customer expectations. Yet show little flexibility in terms of allowing people to choose where and how they work.

Article after article reports that people want greater flexibility – eg to work from home rather than commute to a fixed location. Yet many employers still struggle with even the odd day. Sometimes that’s down to technology – but more often it is down to management culture and a lack of trust.

Here at Chiumento we think this whole issue of work-life integration will dominate the world of work over the next decade. Those employers who embrace flexibility will get the pick of the talent crop. Unconstrained by location they can tap the best people wherever they are based. If an employee wants to change location that’s fine. They can relocate 100, 200 or even more miles and still carry on doing a great job.

To date, digital transformation has largely been about customer experience. We think it will soon expand to embrace employment experience too. Don’t offer a digital remote working environment and your talent pool will shrink. Not every job can benefit – but ever more will. Get left behind and you’ll find recruitment ever harder.

We’ve practised what we preach. Our flexibility means we have an IT Director in Reading and a Marketing Manager in Croydon. Our finance person is in Oxfordshire and one of our recruiters has just relocated to Norfolk to get a better lifestyle. None of them would be with us if we’d said “you must all work in the same place”.

What they all get is that work doesn’t fit in neat compartments. That might mean a few hours working evenings or weekends when clients need us to. But equally it means they can do things that matter to their families. We call it work-life integration. It will never be “balanced” as that implies fixed boundaries.

Next time you are hiring ask yourself this question: can the job be done remotely? If it can you’ll open up a much bigger talent pool. If you offer part-time working that will make it even bigger. Skill shortages are often just as much about our inflexibility as they are about genuine lack of talent.

Written by Ian Gooden, CEO of Chiumento Group. For more information on how we can help with any recruitment needs, whether you’re looking for your next role, want to expand your HR team or for any wider people related services such as outplacement or talent management please get in touch on 020 7224 3307 or email  info@chiumento.co.uk

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