I have been working on a presentation on flexible work schedules for a conference in November. It made me think of this post from earlier in the year.
I read about a very interesting study done by Prof. Seán Ó Riain from Maynooth University, Ireland, on changes that have occurred in the workplace since 1995. His contention is that while workplaces have become more flexible the world of services around the workplace have not. He says “We’re at a stage where we need to think about, now that we’re living in this world of flexible work, how do we respond to that? What are the kinds of services that will enable people to stay in these jobs for a lifetime?”
Flexible work in an inflexible world
As the workplace has evolved work schedules have evolved. We now come in earlier or later than the 8 am or 9 am to 5 workplaces that have evolved. But for that to become more widespread the world outside the workplace needs to evolve too. Most services, beyond retail, have settled into the “9 to 5” schedule. Daycare services have adopted some, but government services have not on a widespread basis. Repair services of many types have not really adapted. Try to find a car repair shop open at 10 pm or a doctor’s office that deals with more than emergency services. As the professor says of our flexible work schedule “It also demands more complex, more high-quality public services. A general set of services that everybody benefits from actually becomes more important when people are working in more different ways than they used to.” We generally have to adapt to their schedules than they have to adapt to the working world.
The future must be a coordinated effort
One of the oddities that Ó Riain found was that the more flexibility there was in a workplace the more planning there needed to be. I think we will find that the more flexible companies want to provide will depend on the flexibility of services being provided. If we truly want a flexible workplace society, the more there needs to be a coordinated effort among government, education, service providers, retail companies and other segments of the business world. Otherwise, we will stick to the “9 to 5” model and the burden of flexibility will be on employers, who will only go so far.
Do you think this can occur? What flexibility issues have you seen in your world?