Infrastructure Report: What the future of work will look like

By Aimee Shaw

Massey University business professor Tim Bentley.
Massey University business professor Tim Bentley.

Imagine being able to work from home to hours that suit yourself on the basis of quality over quantity. Or wake up to an avatar telling you what is on your agenda for the day.

These are just some of the changes that lie ahead as the "workplace" transforms according to Professor Tim Bentley from Massey University's School of Management.

Bentley says working remotely from a regional hub - or at home - will not only take pressure off infrastructure, but also help to build it into regional areas.

"There's a growing trend for people to want to work closer to where they live or live closer to where they work," he says. "We're moving towards a time where work is going to be what we do and not the place we go."

Bentley describes the future of work as ultimate flexibility. "Once organisations set up hubs or co-working centres in the outskirts to save people from coming in to main cities then this is really the business model for what the future of work will look like.

"In the next five to 10 years we are going to see a radical change in working philosophies and new ways of working will become the norm."

He believes New Zealand faces the risk of being left behind, globally, if digital infrastructure and flexible work habits are not put into practice.

"We're getting to a point where technologically speaking we have no excuse for holding out against the changes to come.

"The only real excuse is outmoded management attitudes and they'll have to change. People are realising the technology is there but society is not really catching up."

In Europe - and Australia - more than 20 per cent of those working in knowledge industries work from regional hubs or from home.

Local governments in Queensland and New South Wales are currently investigating the work balance between employees working in the office one day and from home or a regional hub for the rest of the week.

Bentley said New Zealand needed a Government willing to take the lead.

"Governments are never going to be able to provide enough roads or transport to meet the needs of a growing city and anyone who sits in traffic now knows that. So why aren't we looking at this as another possibility? Alongside improving transport infrastructure, maybe we can start encouraging more people to work remotely," he says. "We could have a very large number of people working flexibly that could take the strain off of the infrastructure system and transport system.

We'll all wake up to avatars telling us what is on the agenda for the day and maybe send our holograms to meetings.

"If people are staying in their own region, wherever that may be, then other infrastructure would develop around them and they will be spending money locally. There will also be environmental savings - a lot less pollution and a lot less cars on the roads."

Under new legislation anyone can request to work flexibly. With technological advancements and online platforms enabling us to engage with work remotely, it is a surprise most of us are still doing the typical nine to five.

It all comes down to trust, Bentley says. "There's still people in crucial positions that remember when they let someone work from home in 1978 and it didn't work out too well - that's sort of driving their thinking.

"If people are working digitally somewhere other than the office, then it probably means you can't see them, but are we really still at a stage of thinking about how we manage people and how we feel about growth and productivity to think we've got to see someone to know they're being productive? That's nonsense now days. We measure the outputs rather than the inputs and this is why we have such a bad productivity record in New Zealand.

"Unfortunately it's the amount of hours you sit on your bottom in the office that is counted, not what you produce."

His solution is simple: "Don't employ people you can't trust unless you see them."

"If I'm doing a piece of work for a client they don't care where I am when I do it or how long it takes me to do it. They only care about the quality of it - if it's done to time, done to quality - and that's the workplace of the future.

"As more and more workers become freelancers and we grow into a more contracted workforce, this idea of people coming to the office and sitting there 'nine to five' is completely outmoded. It's not great purpose other than a rostering convenience."

According to the New Zealand Research Institute the workforce of the future will be more flexible, collaborative, and less secure. It will be populated "increasingly by older people, and led by a generation with different values to their predecessors".

Changes in how education is delivered, the ageing population putting off retirement and digitally-connected millennials joining the workforce are some of the demographic trends likely to influence the rise of working remotely.

"While a lot of flexible working happens informally, more and more it's going to be formalised, part of policy and we'll have more virtual organisations," Bentley reckons.

Increased workplace flexibility will mean workers are more loyal and likely to stick around longer.

"We'll all wake up to avatars telling us what is on the agenda for the day and maybe send our holograms to meetings," he said. "I can see the future and it's not going to be long until that seems outmoded and we're again seeing better ways still."

- NZ Herald

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