Imagine spending three hours at work a week. Far from being a dream, for the employees at Hive Legal in Melbourne this is reality. From the perspective of this office, the 9 to 5 model isn’t archaic. It’s dead.
“We love the work you do. How you do it is up to you,” Hive Legal managing director Jodie Baker tells her staff.
The Hive Legal team of lawyers is only required to be in the office for two 90 minute meetings a week. At all other times they are free to work as they please, as long as the work gets done.
They are not alone. A 2013 survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that employees of all ages were willing to forgo pay rises and delay promotions in exchange for reduced working hours.
In an increasingly digital world, having people turn up to an office will become less necessary for some types of work.
Many white-collar jobs, like consultants or writers, can work from somewhere other than the business premises and not lose touch with their workmates or clients.
Working from home will become more prevalent. In fact, there’s nothing stopping people working from the local cafe, beach, tropical island or a mountaintop, so long as it has WiFi.
According to a national survey conducted by the University of South Australia in 2010, most Australian workers would prefer an extra two weeks of holidays over an equivalent pay rise.
Ms Baker got her first taste of the future of work as a lawyer in the US and has been hooked ever since.
“In the US it’s quite advanced,” she says. “Coming back to Australia, I thought, ‘You know what? Bugger it. I’m just going to try this’. I feel pretty passionately that the Australian legal industry is ready for a shake-up.”
Hive Legal is so far ahead of the curve that it is outpacing even the quantum leaps of technology which it relies on for its flexible working practices.
Each of Ms Baker’s employees has a Samsung Thin Client – basically a screen with WiFi – for home use.
All documents and emails are worked on in the Cloud, conferences are attended via iPad, and phone calls made and answered with fancy headsets – although these are a bit glitchy, she admits.
“Some of these things are very, very new, and you just have to be patient,” Ms Baker says.
While other law firms consider what type of paper to stock their printers with, Jodie’s problem is a lack of compatibility between Apple and Android smartphone apps.
Engineering management advisory firm Inside Infrastructure directors Chris Hewitson and Craig Headon founded the Adelaide-based company three-and-a-half years ago with “flexiblity and agility” as their main focus.
While other large engineering firms are taking a “top-down” approach to flexibility by trimming hours as a cost-cutting measure, Inside Infrastructure is more concerned about meeting their employees needs – giving people a choice on how they work.
“When we sit down for that first discussion, it’s about what they’re looking for and how they’d like to work,” Mr Headon says.
It’s about what they’re looking for and how they’d like to work
“We have a range of people who work remotely. One of our technical specialists is on a caravan holiday at the moment. He’s travelling around Australia, so he dials in. He could be pretty much anywhere at any point in time.”
For both directors, it is a business model built on trust where the business as well as the employee is flexible.
“We don’t need to be watching them, to be sitting next to them, to make sure that the work’s getting done,” Mr Headon says.
Avoid one size fits all
When former managing director of McKinsey & Company Australia New Zealand Adam Lewis tried a top down approach to flexibility he “pretty quickly figured out” that it created conflict between employees with different lifestyles.
So after turning his back on a 20-year career as an executive, Mr Lewis tried a different model for flexibility when starting a smaller management consulting Cast Professionals, where the clientele is mostly composed of ASX top 50 to 150 companies.
Instead of the 9am to 3pm working day he’d tried to start at McKinsey, Mr Lewis avoided a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Every person in our network has a different sort of flexibility requirement, so my original concept of 9am to 3pm was completely thrown out the window,” Mr Lewis says.
“We’ve got people who want to work full time, we’ve got people who want to spend three months of the year in Europe. We’ve got women with kids who want to work part-time every day.”
Cast Professionals has taken flexibility to a whole new level, completely doing away with the employee-employer model.
“We have no employees,” Mr Lewis says.
What we essentially do is we have a network of people who are all independent contractors, and we bring them together under the Cast umbrella as and when we need them.”
It is an “unbundled” model which Mr Lewis also sees as an emerging trend in medicine, law and blue collar industries like construction and mining.
Whether the future of work is agile, flexible, in the Cloud, unbundled or a combination of all of these, there is demand for more choice in the way we work.