The future will be disorganised - probably

2004

Its adverts may say the future is Orange but, according to the eponymous mobile phone company, the future of work will be companies that feel less organised, more flexible and socially committed.

Yet, if another study by the phone company is also to be believed, businesses are further away than ever from realising this type of vision.

The first study, a survey of business leaders by Orange and think-tank Demos, has predicted employers will increasingly find themselves under pressure to enable staff to align their working lives with their lives and aspirations outside work.

What this will mean in practice will be more requests for flexible working, more people asking to take part in corporate social responsibility projects and people preferring to work for smaller rather than larger organisations.

The Disorganisation study also suggests firms will need to “disorganise” in order to retain their most creative people.

“Organisations will have to loosen up so that they feel less like organisations to their employees,” said Demos report authors Paul Miller and Paul Skidmore.

Of those polled, more than eight out of 10 – 85 per cent – believed flexible working would increase people’s job satisfaction, with nearly six out of 10 business leaders saying they would allow their staff to work in this way.

The preference for working for ‘disorganisations’ seems to be supported by a significant proportion of people who say they would like to work for a smaller employer.

One in five people said that they would prefer to work for smaller companies, while only one in eight said they would prefer to work for a larger organisation.

This trend was still more pronounced in professionals (the AB social grouping), where twice as many (27 per cent) want to work for a smaller employer than a larger one (14 per cent).

More than half of business leaders also said that they expected demand for CSR projects such as volunteering in the community would increase.

“People want to work in organisations that feel a bit more human, and offer greater flexibility and autonomy. They want to work for organisations that respect and reflect their values; they want to define their work rather than have work define their identity,” added Miller and Skidmore.

But if the first Demos/Orange survey is proposing a somewhat touchy-feely Utopian ideal, the second survey by the two, run this time by pollster Mori, delivers a sharp reality check.

Its poll of more than 1,000 members of the public has suggested that, rather than getting flatter and more flexible, most businesses are in fact still operating along the lines of a traditional hierarchy.

One in five people in work said they spoke to their boss’s boss less than once a year, it found.

For Orange's Mike Newhman, the findings highlighted how the power the individual possesses in a knowledge-based economy.

"In the past businesses went their own way and tried to fit people into their organisation,” he said. “Today it is the employees not the employers who own the means of production through their intellectual capital. If they walk out the door, they take an irreplaceable part of the organisation with them."