Blogs, Business planning, Ken Phillips

Why flexible working matters for soloists, too

Ken Phillips /

A new Australian Institute of Management paper on flexible working is a wake-up call to managers who are locked in to the idea that efficient and effective work requires staff to be locked into a rigid organisational timetable.

 

But it also provides a pointer as to why soloists are better suited to the challenges of flexibility and workplace change.

 

AIM accepts that the prevailing managerial concept of the ‘ideal worker’ is “someone who is able to work full-time, and to be solely committed to their job.”

 

AIM says that this concept no longer fits with the realities of a changed society and of totally changed work situations.

 

Further, where flexibility has been applied in workplaces, higher levels of productivity and innovation have been evident.

 

Independent Contractors Australia comes at this issue from the perspective of self-employed people — that is, people who run and are micro and small business operators.

 

This small business segment, which includes the employees in small businesses, makes up 70% of the workforce.

 

The AIM discussion, as relevant as it is, focuses on the ‘big end’ of town: the 30% who work in big business and government (split about 50/50).

 

Managerial discussion by AIM and big organisation managers see ‘flexible work’ as a challenge to efficient work operations.

 

But for people working in small business, flexible work is a normal and required part of everyday life.

 

This is driven in part by lifestyle choices, but more by the demands of customers, and the concept and practice of ‘flexibility’ is therefore different from that facing large concerns.

 

A large organisation/firm is capable of protecting its workers from the vagaries and realities of the marketplace. In small businesses, no such protection exists or is possible.

 

This is because, for small concerns, the marketplace is ‘in your face’ every day.

 

What’s happening, however, is that a massively changed and changing world of work is causing the realities of the marketplace to penetrate the inner workings of large organisations.

 

The protections once offered to employees are now exceedingly hard to maintain. To cope with quickly changing markets, large organisations are under pressure to have the flexibility that is the daily bread and butter of small business available to big business.

 

This is where AIM talks of increased performance and innovation.

 

The reality is that flexibility in work is needed to respond to the life demands of people working in firms but also to the market demands of clients.

 

This is where small business has significant advantages over big business. Technology is rapidly creating an environment where networks of small business people can perform the once traditional functions of big business, but do this with greater innovation, flexibility and responsiveness to markets.

 

The managerial challenge that AIM talks about is not, in fact, just to ‘managers’, but to the very concept of big organisational processes.

 

That is, how do big organisations maintain innovation? AIM is saying that flexible work is part of that.

 

But I think the challenge is much bigger than just flexibility. It’s much more about how organisations allow and accept the vagaries of the market to enter the very sinews of the firm.

 

Small business people do this by the very nature of their existence: Big organisations, whether government or private business bureaucracies, resist this.

 

I first wrote about this in 2001, for the Institute of Economic Affairs in London and in my subsequent book Independence and the Death of Employment.

 

So far, I can’t say that the issues have changed much!

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