Working harder, not smarter

Sep 17 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Most managers love the idea of being able to work and manage "smart". Sadly the reality of the "always on", globe-trotting, teleworking leader running a consensual, totally engaged ship is still some way off.

Research from the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found that more than nine out of 10 managers and workers believe "smart working" can have a positive effect on business performance.

Moving away from a "command and control" management approach to one that embraces a greater degree of freedom, flexibility and collaboration is the way forward in the modern, more consensual, workplace, they agreed.

Nearly nine out of 10 believe such new forms of working have become more relevant for organisations than they were in the past and almost all Ė 97 per cent Ė believe they will become even more so in the future.

It's just a shame then that the reality falls so far short. In fact, the CIPD study has concluded, smart working remains in its infancy, with the working lives of most employees still a long way from any sort of "smart" ideal.

Job design processes have not kept up with the aspiration to redesign organisations, with the majority of workers unconvinced that their employers are deliberately designing roles that embrace smart working concepts, it added.

The research is at odds with a study last week by the Confederation of British Industry and recruiter Pertemps which suggested that the number of people teleworking from home had risen dramatically over the past few years, with almost half of employers now offering it in some shape or form.

A U.S and Canadian study by World at Work earlier this month also concluded that teleworking had soared in popularity over the past 12 months, with more than four our of 10 firms in both countries now offering it.

Mike Emmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, said: "Everybody knows that work can be managed better. Jobs can be designed in a way that maximises individual motivation and organisational effectiveness. Our research shows smart working holds the key.

"But there is still a significant job of work to be done to clarify what is involved in smart working and to support those organisations that have set out on that journey," he added.

"Smart working is about much more than implementing flexible working, hot-desking or new IT systems. Smart working is about a fundamental change to the assumptions that shape the working relationship," he continued.

"Organisations are beginning to provide their people with a greater level of autonomy, choice and freedom than we have seen before.

"Offering employees increased autonomy in job roles is one of the smart working interventions most frequently reported by respondents to our survey," he concluded.

The body suggested that there are "four pillars" to smart working:

  • An organisation's management values
  • The implementation of high-performance work practices
  • The physical working environment
  • The introduction of "enabling technology"

When firms had embraced all four of these measures, they would be well on the way to become truly smart in how they worked on an everyday level and, just as importantly, how managers managed their teams and divisions, the CIPD argued.