The recession has provided a big stimulus for the adoption of new ways of working as companies respond to pressure to reduce overheads such as business travel and office costs and encourage their staff to work more flexibly.
A new report by New Ways of Working (New WOW), a member organization focused on alternative workplace solutions, has found that the adoption of what it terms "alternative workplace practices" (AW) has accelerated sharply since 2008, with four of 10 companies surveyed saying that they have put programs in place over the past two years.
These alternative workplace practices embrace a combination of work practices, locations and technologies that supplement or replace traditional offices. They include hot desking, working from home, hotels, or other third party places such as 'work cafes'.
The report, based on a survey of 103 organizations, including leading Fortune 100 companies, found that eight out of 10 organizations anticipated an increase in remote collaboration and corresponding reduction in business travel while more than six out of 10 said that they were replacing fixed desks with "hot desks". Around a third also said they were utilising satellite offices (drop-in spaces on the employee side of the commute).
But while many companies get the technology right, the report makes clear that their management practices and culture often lags behind. The top three barriers to better ways of working are organizational: organizational culture (entitlement, trust), management concerns, and fear of change.
Perhaps significantly, all these barriers are essentially people issues. In contrast, the primary drivers of change are "hard" economic - cost savings and real estate flexibility - rather than any concern over employee work/life balance, increased productivity, or improved retention.
Moreover, sustainability and reduced carbon footprint was ranked as one of the lowest business drivers for AW adoption, suggesting that many organizations have yet to realize the positive impact on sustainability that practices such as reducing office space, cutting commuting, and travel reduction can have.
But whatever the motivation, these ways of working are become mainstream practices in more and more organizations. "We don't even give it a name. It's just the normal way of working here," observed one survey participant.
"These results leave little doubt that alternative workplace programs are becoming valuable and perhaps critical initiatives as organizations strive to be more competitive by lowering their costs while attracting and retaining the 'best and the brightest,'" said Dr. Joe Aki Ouye, co-founder of the New Ways of Working Network.