The Future of Work – Time to Flex

Last week I visited the great trading city of Izmir in Turkey to give a talk at the Chamber of Commerce there about the impact of temporary work and technology on the future of work.

At the end of 2016, the Turkish government announced that temporary work would be legalised in Turkey. Having worked in staffing for 25 years, and having established REED offices in Turkey, I am excited by the opportunity this presents to us. Flexibility at work is good for employers, it’s good for workers and it’s good for society, and I was keen to share that message with my peers in Izmir.

When I joined REED in 1992 unemployment in the UK was at record levels: more than three million people were out of work. Now, decades later, employment is at a record high, and I firmly believe this is in large part due to the flexible labour market which enables us to work in a variety of ways, to communicate more effectively and ultimately to be more productive. So when I talk about flexible working, I like to consider new kinds of jobs that are being created, choosing not just where or when we work, but also how we work.

For years, permanent employment was the standard in many sectors. This means that employees work directly for and are paid by a single employer, and there is no predetermined end to their employment date. But now the landscape of flexible working is evolving very quickly and it is rapidly becoming the normal mode of working for more and more people around the world.

Flexible types of work include temporary work, agency work, self-employment, part-time work, zero hours contracts, portfolio working and the gig economy. When I presented these differences to the audience in Izmir, one journalist asked me, ‘What does the word gig actually mean?’ A gig used to be a two wheeled cart pulled along by one or two horses, but in its modern day usage the term is typically used as slang for a music concert. But – put simply – a gig is a single performance. I like to think of it as task-based work, compared to more traditional temporary work which is typically a time-based commitment.

There are critics of the gig economy and other forms of flexible working who see this as a way for employers to treat their workers like full-time staff, but without the stability or the benefits they would be entitled to as a permanent employee. However, in my experience at REED, flexible working presents an immense opportunity and is something businesses and workers alike should seriously consider if they want to improve their productivity.

Whether you are taking on a new project or have unexpected absences to counter, flexible working is a quick and efficient answer for an employer seeking to scale up their workforce, bring in fresh skills and/or keep operations moving. You can match the hours you pay with the peaks and troughs of your business’s needs, allowing you to keep your headcount flexible, maximise productivity and control costs. Crucially, by allowing your workers to operate more flexibly and in a way that suits their needs, you are also better placed to attract and retain talent.

The benefits are felt by workers too. Whether you have a gap in employment you want to fill or are returning to work after a prolonged period of time off, this is a way to keep your skills fresh and the money coming in. Similarly, you could be looking to make a career change and this is a way for you to test out a new industry or role. Flexible working ultimately gives you more control about how, when and where you work – nailing these decisions is key to optimising your output. If you’re able to do this successfully then flexible working could be the path for you.

Changes in the labour market and in regulations are creating new opportunities – both overseas and in the UK. Technology is rapidly enabling new types of work to be established and to be effective, and my goal is that we should constantly find new ways of delivering and innovating our service. In the future, it is the most flexible who will flourish.