Limber up, or get left behind: flexible working is here to stay

The genie is out of the bottle, says best-selling work guru Bruce Daisley. And employers who try to put it back are wasting their energy

Bruce Daisley: ‘I haven’t seen evidence of any advantages to having staff in the office for five days a week compared to those that are working flexible hours’

The world is constantly changing. According to Bruce Daisley, bestselling author and tech leader, a healthy culture of innovation has never been more important in the workplace, as so many businesses have been forced to embrace change as never before.

“The world of work as we knew it has changed dramatically and it is important to move with these changes, but also to keep workers inspired, motivated and connected to each other,” Daisley said.

“Although many of these fundamental changes have happened over the past 18 months, it has taken us a long time to recognise this.”

Even now, many managers continue to express their wish to return staff to the office and re-establish the working norms that existed pre-pandemic. “They believe their old equilibrium needs to be restored,” Daisley said.

With many years of experience at the helm of both Twitter and YouTube, the British businessman is well placed to offer advice to companies on how to create a harmonious work environment while, at the same time, growing their business.

“I have worked for everything from huge tech firms and small start-ups to big retail organisations and manufacturing companies,” he said. “Effectively, everyone is wrestling with the same issue: how to keep up with changes and, at the same time, ensure workers are motivated and connected to each other.

“The firms I work with are generally trying to remain attractive as employers and, while they are keen to adapt to the changing world, they don’t want any of their decisions to be at the expense of company profit.”

Finding a sustainable version of work – one that promotes a desirable work culture – can be a challenge for some companies.

“It has been fascinating to see how companies are wrestling with it,” Daisley said. “Overwhelmingly, what I have found is that most workers are comfortable with the change and ambiguity we have witnessed in recent months.

“According to data and statistics, the group battling against it the most is management. This is very interesting as, for decades, bosses have been telling workers that they need to embrace change or be in danger of becoming luddites who are stuck in the past and now, when change has taken place, they are reluctant to embrace it.”

Daisley, who hosts the award-winning business podcast, Eat Sleep Work Repeat, is encouraging bosses reluctant to back flexible working in the long term to research the benefits and decide whether they want to be behind or ahead of the curve.

“All the data suggests that the only group who wants to go back full-time to the office are the bosses,” he said.

“I can understand that they feel it is better for workers to be together for motivational purposes and to help younger members of staff to learn and develop, but the flexibility of working from home for some of the time really does seem to suit the workforce.

There is a whole generation of people who believe we need to do things according to the template it has always followed, but creating a culture of innovation is not that simple.

“While we do need to synchronise ourselves with other people, we don’t need to do it as much as we had been doing,” Daisley said.

“Yes, some divergent discussions and innovative meetings need to be had face-to-face. But, for the most part, we have adapted and those who didn’t believe change was possible have discovered that, in fact, it was.”

The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change in the workplace. As Daisley sees it, companies must be willing to learn how to innovate, because the new way of working looks like it is here to stay.

“I strongly believe that, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, many businesses would not have made the changes they have. And, although their hand may have been forced and change accelerated, so far it has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

“So I would encourage companies to get used to this change. And, while I would respect their decision if they insist on workers being in the office for five days a week, they need to ask themselves: what will happen when they are hiring new staff? Will they pay more to those who have previously had flexible hours?

“This is of course, their prerogative, but I haven’t seen evidence of any advantages to having staff in the office for five days a week compared to those that are working flexible hours. And that, I believe, is the key.”