The way we work is changing – and fast. This is leaving business owners and managers with more questions than answers. Does flexible working pay off? How much leave is too much? And how important is sustainability? We speak to the people trying to change the way we work.
“Here at Ipsos Mori we’ve been experimenting with infinite holiday. Studies show that people who have it tend to take fewer days off than people who stick to five weeks a year. We haven’t done it for all of our staff [there are more than 16,000], just a few people with heavy caring responsibilities. What we have found – consistent with other research – is that those who are given it do not abuse it and, if anything, take slightly less holiday than the average employee because they appreciate the complete flexibility it gives them.
We’ve also got rules that you only have to be present in the office between 10.00 and 16.00. You don’t have to be physically chained to a desk to get work done. There’s been a massive rise in home working in many western countries, partly because wi-fi and cloud computing have made everything available everywhere. But congestion also deters people, as does the rise in the cost of housing in many cities.”
Biography: Page joined Mori in 1987. He is also a writer and speaker on leadership and performance management.
“My research looks at companies that I call ‘Teal organisations’. These firms provide a space in which employees thrive; they pay salaries above market rates; they grow year in, year out and achieve remarkable profit margins; in downturns, they prove resilient even though they choose not to fire workers; and, perhaps most importantly, they are vehicles that help a noble purpose manifest itself in the world.
What can explain the outcomes of these organisations? One aspect is self-management. In a pyramid structure, meetings are needed at every level to gather, package, filter and transmit information as it flows up and down the chain of command. In self-managing structures the need for these meetings falls away almost entirely. Every colleague can sense the surrounding reality and act upon that knowledge. As the saying goes, when a fisherman senses a fish in a particular spot, by the time his boss gives his approval to cast the fly, the fish has long moved on.”
Biography: Laloux formerly worked at McKinsey & Company. He holds an MBA from Insead and a degree in coaching.
“When you factor in both paid and unpaid work, figures show that men and women tend to do similar amounts. But this is not equal: if you do more paid work – usually the case for men – that opens up more job opportunities and you can follow an upward career trajectory. That’s partly why we see the gender pay gap; it’s because women still take responsibility for the bulk of unpaid work. Ultimately this is not just about the pay gap but about the pension gap because you’re not paying in so much if you take career breaks.
To equalise this involves a big cultural and institutional shift. Giving more paternity leave is a first mechanism that seems to work in Scandinavian countries. Iceland’s policy, for instance, allows for almost equal amounts of maternity and paternity leave. At management level, recognising that fathers as well as mothers have care responsibilities is very important.”
Biography: Also by Sullivan: Changing Gender Relations, Changing Families: Tracing the Pace of Change Over Time.
“Sustainability can give companies a competitive advantage. The late green entrepreneur Ray C Anderson – after whom the Ray C Anderson Center for Sustainable Business at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business is named – understood this perfectly. Here we bring together students, research faculty, companies and entrepreneurs to create an environment where business-driven solutions to sustainability challenges can take shape.
People would rather work for a company with values that resonate with their own, where there is a sense of mission and purpose. Often a company that is ahead of the curve on sustainability issues is attractive to potential employees – especially the younger generation. This gives the company an edge in the recruitment market, while also helping them retain talent.
In the past few years sustainability has been catapulted to the top of the agenda. Companies are engaging with this by assessing and mitigating carbon risk in their supply chains, developing energy-efficient products, using renewable-energy sources and encouraging employee-driven initiatives.”
Biography: Toktay’s primary research areas are sustainable operations and supply-chain management.
“When we launched the four-day trial among 250 staff at Perpetual Guardian – which manages trusts, wills and estate planning – we ran research alongside it by Auckland University. Engagement scores – empowerment, enrichment, loyalty – went up 40 per cent; stress levels dropped 15 per cent; and more people said they were better able to handle their workload.
I pay you for x amount of productivity; do I therefore care whether you deliver this in five, three or four days? Whether it’s delivered in or out of the office? No, I don’t. Flexible working is the key and my companies went permanently flexible last year. Businesses need to rethink how their workers work. It’s important for things like the environment, mental health and ensuring that we have a workforce that is fit for purpose for the 21st century. Businesses will never be persuaded by the argument of work-life balance if the bottom line is impacted. But what we are talking about is a policy that improves workers’ lives, ensures they’re protected and, at the same time, doesn’t destroy productivity. It’s a powerful argument.”
Biography: Barnes is an entrepreneur who regularly speaks on issues such as governance and leadership.
“A lot of social media reflects society’s beliefs. When you’re on Instagram and someone is saying, ‘Hustling hard – never sleep’, that’s a sociological phenomenon called ‘work devotion’. It’s something that has evolved in response to cultural myths, such as the American Dream. My research has shown that these types of narratives don’t help.
I want to tackle the culture of the way people measure success. Every company wants their workers to be more innovative. But a lot of the cultural best practices and the ways in which we evaluate how people contribute to a company’s success are still grounded in an outdated methodology that looks at continuous output; it’s a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution.
When I consult organisations, what we often talk about is that the conditions required for creativity and innovation are in opposition to the conditions created by this productivity culture. Creativity requires unstructured time for people to stop and think; it’s not helpful for those who are expected to be creative to be jammed in back-to-back meetings.”
Biography: Harfoush teaches at SciencesPo’s School of Management and Innovation in Paris.