Future Work: Changing organizational culture for the new world of work, by Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson

2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 1 137 36715 0, hbk, xix + 231 pp, £18.99

For these authors, ‘future work’ is something that is happening and it is something that we can work towards. Technological change gives workforces and those who manage them choices that previously didn’t exist: and this book is a description of the new possibilities – possibilities already exploited in some workplaces – and a call to action amongst those companies that have so far not embraced the new opportunities available to them. The new possibilities can all be characterised by the term ‘flexibility’, and in order to embrace them companies will need to build flexibility unto their work and management practices.

For instance: the majority of graduates are now women, and many fathers would value greater workplace flexibility so that they can spend more time with their children. ‘Future work’ will be flexible in terms of where work is done and when it is done, and this will better serve the needs of both women and men in the workforce than the eight hour day spent at a single workplace away from home. Making that flexibility a reality now requires companies to build flexibility into the ways in which workers’ time and place of work is managed. Providing such flexibility will increase worker autonomy, to the benefit of both workers and the company, in terms of employee motivation, results achieved, and savings on workplace costs. Case studies prove the point.

Future work will be managed by results and not by adding up the number of hours that employees spend in a particular place:

Trust people to act as adults, and enabling them to decide the best way to do their job, including the ‘where’ and ‘when’, is the secret of success. (p.18)

The authors recognise the downside of technological change: for instance, the ways in which smartphones can extend work into leisure time, and the impersonality of many call centres: but on the whole they see genuinely flexible working as a positive option for both companies and individuals.

Future work is based on the simple principle that work is an activity that produces a desired result. It is performed to achieve outcomes which contribute to the enterprise that has engaged the worker, whether as employee or contractor. (p.48)

In this new world of future work, offices are meeting places, not workplaces; and managers learn, adapt, trust, and empower:

Management in the new world of work demands a democratic approach in which managers agree the objectives with individuals, provide the resources, and then trust them to take responsibility for getting on with it. The transformation of work is underway. (p.206)

This book should be read alongside Guy Standing’s The Precariat. For every ‘future worker’ who is enjoying their new-found autonomy, work-life balance, and target-driven work, there will be rather more insecure workers spending increasing amounts of time ‘working for work’: that is, looking for work, or preparing for work. In today’s economy, however brilliant the results a worker achieves, the successful, autonomous and flexible worker can next day become the economically insecure jobseeker, moving from short-term unrewarding job to short-term unrewarding job. For all of these workers – both the highly motivated and in-demand ‘future workers’ discussed by Maitland and Thomson, and the increasing number of workers in the precariat – rapid change in work practices, the economy, and society, demand a new and more appropriate social and economic infrastructure if flexibility is to promote motivation and autonomy and not disenchantment and burn-out.

One of the consequences of flexible working is flexible earned incomes: and the problem with this is that financial commitments tend to be rather less flexible. Flexible earned incomes wouldn’t be so much of a problem if every individual had a secure income floor on which they could build their income maintenance strategy. At the moment we don’t have that secure floor.

Maitland and Thomson clearly enjoy writing optimistic books. Another optimistic book could perhaps be titled Future Society and could be about the kind of society in which ‘future work’ would be welcomed by all workers, both by those described in Future Work, and those described in The Precariat. At the heart of Future Society would be a Citizen’s Income.