The second Cornwall Innovation Club, held at the iconic Headland Hotel in Newquay, began with a buzz and there’s no better location to discuss smarter working than in an area where seasonal changes, surf and lifestyle, all dramatically impact how people really want to work!
The Smart Working Revolution
Ever heard of the Smart Working Revolution? No? We hadn’t until we ran into Ruth Gawthorpe, CEO of the Smart Working Revolution and a passionate advocate for making smart working work for everyone. Ruth reminisced about a time when she first dipped her toes into smart working as a HR Director and piloted an employee gym membership scheme to reduce staff absence.
In her experience, the positive impact of doing so was far greater than any of the leadership team could have imagined. “Not only did the physical health of employees increase, but so did levels of teamwork and the productivity of workers”, she says. The reduction in staff absence made the pilot financially beneficial for the entire business, too. It was from this pinnacle moment that Ruth began to explore the other ways in which businesses can adopt a smarter working approach, and thus, her Smart Working Revolution was born!
So what is smart working? According to Ruth, it’s a “philosophy” which champions lots of different ways of working. This includes the most commonly known ones, such as: flexible working, part-time hours, job sharing and working from home. But, surprisingly, there are many other ways of doing it too. Including many we hadn’t thought of prior to Ruth’s knowledge sharing session with Cornwall Innovation Club members.
Smart working is essentially encouraging a working culture which allows greater flexibility on aspects such as location, contract hours and perceived incentives (or a combination of all these things). In Cornwall, for example, seasonal changes and an influx of tourists in peak season, results in increased travel times and frustration for employees commuting to work. Smarter working would look to mitigate this stress and may incorporate some of the following ideas:
- Varying work start and end times to allow for traffic disruption
- Offer working from home or partial working from home
- Introduce options to increase daily hours, but reduce your working week so that you only sit in traffic for 3 days instead of 5 (same number of hours worked over fewer days)
- Many other carefully considered options…
The logical argument for allowing this flexibility is that there’s benefits for both the employer and employee; employers have workers that work the same number of hours but are less stressed and, therefore, are more productive for the business; employees are less stressed and have greater job satisfaction, which positively influences health and wellbeing.
All businesses are different and smart working will prove a greater challenge for those that are customer facing or have traditional trading hours, for example in the retail sector where shops are traditionally known to open from 9am-5pm. But Ruth suggests that there are other models of smart working that could work here too, such as part-time workers and job sharing. This won’t suit everyone, but it may be ideal for those with family commitments or that have an entrepreneurial side-hustle they would like to pursue.
The smart working discussion really opened up some surprising avenues of thought. The big realisation being that if businesses become amenable to smart working options, then a greater number of jobs can be created. Furthermore, if workers are given the tools to work from home, then people would be encouraged to live in areas outside of the usual commuting distance – pushing economic prosperity further outside of the cities and boosting rural communities. “The smart working philosophy is all about creating a fairer distribution of work across the nation, increasing employee productivity and providing more of a focus on family”, says Ruth.
It’s a noble endeavour and, just like all innovations, there are some hurdles for early adopters to overcome. Like “what if we let them work from home and they don’t do any work”? Or “how will I keep track of my staff?” According to Ruth, successful smart working models all hinge on the two way flow of trust between businesses leaders and their employees. It was even suggested that it takes a new calibre of leaders, known as “Smart Leaders”, who encompass a special set of skills to be able to:
- Recognise and recruit Smart Workers with the required attributes
- Build and foster trust within distributed teams
- Openly communicate the team mission and aspirations
- Set goals and manage by outcomes
- Actively maintain engagement of distributed teams
- Make the best use of technology for optimum motivation and productivity
- Ensure the wellbeing of employees
If Smart Leaders, like Ruth, hold their course and crack through the barriers surrounding Smart Working – then there’s many compelling arguments in favour of the philosophy. Whilst the Equality and Human Rights Commission points towards flexible working as the primary way to close the gender pay gap in the ‘Fair opportunities for all: A strategy to reduce pay gaps in Britain’ report, the smart working movement continues to gain traction and the public support of workers.
There are obvious pros and cons to smart working and it will be interesting to see over the next 10 years how the conversation develops and if environmental concerns with travel will add more fire to fuel the debate. After all, “work happens in brains, not offices” says Ruth.