IT'S ABOUT PRODUCTIVITY AND WELL-BEING
Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps the level of AW is irrelevant, as are management and employee attitudes towards it. The real questions are those of productivity and the wellbeing of the individual worker in the organisational context. Just because AW has potential benefits in both areas, it may be neither the highest factor nor the highest priority in achieving either. But what organisation could afford not to take advantage of productivity improvements of 13 per cent? Something else is happening; either the gains apply in only a few cases, or there are other reasons for not embracing AW, such as those given by Yahoo!.
To shed some light on this, it is worth reading Peter Drucker's 1991 article on services productivity in the Harvard Business Review. In it, he considers the factors that influence the productivity of knowledge work and those most likely to work anywhere.
It (increasing services productivity) demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.
Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
In essence, improving productivity by any means, including AW, requires managers to devolve responsibility for productivity and innovation, and give autonomy. Workers then have to accept responsibility. So maybe AW hasn't failed. We just haven't had enough instances of managers who are delegating responsibility and allowing autonomy.
OFFICES MAY YET BECOME OBSOLETE
During the industrial revolution we discovered economies of scale which, at that time, required co-location of people and machines. Even for manufacturing, this is less so, now, with out-sourced, off-shore design and engineering, automation and remote operation of equipment, for example.
Similarly, many of the original reasons for co-location of office workers have disappeared, so maybe the question is about the future of the office itself.
Fast-forward 20 years, and there could be millions of journeymen knowledge workers, working from home or with their customers, bidding for work over the Internet with organisations all over the world. It is easy to imagine how this intense level of competition will drive relentless, rapid innovation, out of sheer necessity and natural selection. Maybe, only then, we will have the necessary autonomy and responsibility to deliver the promised productivity gains in services that Drucker identified some 20 years ago.
Offices will be turned into museums, like locomotive repair shops and gasworks, and your children will wonder how you managed to survive having to travel two or three hours in order to work for seven.
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