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Former Member

Pity the knowledge worker: an entrenched meeting-based culture and a working day dominated by soulless, siloed email activity are proven to induce cortisol and stress. Mired in bureaucracy and non-productive tasks, it’s hardly surprising that an anti-work sentiment has started to bubble up to the surface. Do we, as employers, really want to perpetuate a situation where the best part of the working day is going home?

For decades, management theorists have been predicting that organisations will need to reinvent the concept of work. But it seems that day may finally be upon us.

A solutions-based economy

Alternative models have been around for years. Take the creative production flow of the movie industry: skilled professionals such as camera operators, make-up artists or sound recordists assemble as part of a crew, deliver their component of the project, then disassemble and move on to the next job.

For traditional employers, this approach might seem a little anarchic and daunting. But “wirearchies” – organisations based on agile, fluid committees rather than strict hierarchical structures – are becoming more commonplace, notably since the recession.  Self-employment in the UK is at its highest level since records began; last year, the equivalent of the population of Brighton eschewed secure, corporate life in favour of setting up their own entity. 

Established marketplaces like eLance – an online forum that allows companies to hire teams and freelancers to showcase their abilities and ‘bid’ for jobs – are no longer confined to the creative industry. Look at how Über, the private ride-share model, is disrupting the traditional taxi business. Or how crowd-funding through platforms like Kickstarter is now a recognised route for raising venture capital, at a time when banks are still reluctant to lend to start-ups.

Unlike those hardwired into jobs, who may feel straitjacketed by their role or become resigned to inefficiency, independent professionals tend to make a defined, flexible contribution to team efforts, guided by a results oriented work ethic. However, businesses need to act responsibly to avoid eroding people’s pay, job security, health, retirement income or legal rights in the pursuit of short-term flexibility.

Can corporates make work like the movies?

There’s no reason that more corporate environments can’t encourage a more flexible, project-based culture among their permanent workforce. Organisations that are characterised by project-level working, for example, can emulate marketplace models by using virtual talent platforms that allow employees to showcase their breadth of skills in a portfolio, rather than relying on line managers or HR systems to identify untapped abilities. Workers with time, capacity and intent can bid (or be invited) to attach their talents and skills to opportunities outside their prescribed roles.

Certainly, efficiency needs to be monitored but quality shouldn’t suffer, as employees become more attuned to taking responsibility for their work and its outcomes. But just as importantly, the “socialisation” of work can be intrinsically more rewarding, as the fun and energy of start-ups are replicated in a secure, corporate environment without the risk exposure of “going it alone”.

To discover more about his unique perspective, watch Perry Timms' 20-Minute Master Class on demand. For more Workforce 2020 insights from Tim Robson and Thomas Otter, why not sign up for the final two 20-Minute Master Classes.