As defined by the CIPD (2008: 4), smart working is: ‘An approach to organizing work that aims to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness in achieving job outcomes through a combination of flexibility, autonomy and collaboration, in parallel with optimizing tools and working environments for employees.’ The characteristics of smart working as established by the CIPD research were:
- self-management – a high degree of autonomy and a philosophy of empowerment;
- the use of virtual teams or work groups;
- focus on outcome-based indicators of performance;
- high-performance working;
- flexibility in work locations and hours;
- use of more advanced communications technology;
- hot-desking and working from home;
- ways of working that are underpinned by or drive high-trust working relationships;
- alignment of smart working with business objectives.
Typical smart working arrangements identified by the CIPD research include flexible working, high-performance working, ‘lean’ production and designing jobs in which there is a higher degree of freedom to act. The role of each of those arrangements in work design is described below.
Flexible working is a pattern of working practice or working hours that deviates from the standard or normal arrangement. The aim is to provide for greater operational flexibility, improve the use of employees’ skills and capacities, increase productivity and reduce employment costs. Flexible working has become increasingly important as a means of enhancing operational effectiveness.
Flexible working means reconsidering traditional employment patterns. This could include operational flexibility, multiskilling, the use of subcontracting and outsourcing, or introducing working arrangements such as flexible hours, job sharing and homeworking.
Forms of operational flexibility
Operational flexibility refers to flexibility in the ways in which work is carried out. The term is sometimes extended to include financial flexibility. The three forms of operational flexibility are:
- Functional flexibilityso that employees can be redeployed quickly and smoothly between activities and tasks. It may require multiskilling – workers who possess and can apply a number of skills, for example, both mechanical and electrical engineering, or multitasking – workers who carry out a number of different tasks in a work team.
- Structural flexibilityin a ‘flexible firm’ where the core of permanent employees is supplemented by a peripheral group of part-time employees, employees on short- or fixed-term contracts or subcontracted workers, as described by Doeringer and Priore (1971) and Atkinson (1984).
- Numerical flexibility, which is associated with structural flexibility and means that the number of employees can be quickly and easily increased or decreased in line with even short-term changes in the level of demand for labour.
Financial flexibility provides for pay levels to reflect the state of supply and demand in the external labour market and also means the use of flexible pay systems that facilitate either functional or numerical flexibility.
Multiskilling takes place when workers acquire through experience and training a range of different skills they can apply when carrying out different tasks (multitasking). This means that they can be used flexibly, transferring from one task to another as the occasion demands.
A multiskilling strategy will mean providing people with a variety of experience through, for example, moving them between different jobs or tasks (job rotation) and secondments, and by making arrangements for them to acquire new skills through training. It typically includes setting up flexible work teams, the members of which can be deployed on all or many of the team’s tasks. A flexible employee resourcing policy can then be established that enables the organization to redeploy people rapidly to meet new demands. This implies abandoning the traditional job description that prescribes the tasks to be carried and replacing it with a role profile, which specifies the range of knowledge and skills that the role holder needs.
This is an arrangement in which two employees share the work of one full-time position, dividing pay and benefits between them according to the time that each of them works. Job-sharing can mean splitting days or weeks or, less frequently, working alternate weeks. The advantages of job-sharing include reduced employee turnover and absenteeism, because it suits the needs of individuals. Greater continuity results: because if one half of the job-sharing team is ill or leaves, the sharer will continue working for at least half the time. Job-sharing also means that a wider employment pool can be tapped for those who cannot work full-time but want permanent employment. The disadvantages are the administrative costs involved and the risk of responsibility being divided.
Hot-desking means that individual desks are shared between several people who use them at different times. Those involved do not therefore have a permanent work station. This is convenient for the organization but not everyone likes it.
Home-based employees can carry out such roles as consultants, analysts, designers or programmers, or they can undertake administrative work. The advantages are flexibility to respond rapidly to fluctuations in demand, reduced overheads and lower employment costs if the homeworkers are self-employed (care, however, has to be taken to ensure that they are regarded as self-employed for Income Tax and National Insurance purposes).
Flexible hour arrangements
Flexible hour arrangements can be included in a flexibility plan in one or more of the following ways:
- flexible daily hours – these may follow an agreed pattern day by day according to typical or expected workloads (eg flexitime systems);
- flexible weekly hours – providing for longer weekly hours to be worked at certain peak periods during the year;
- flexible daily and weekly hours – varying daily or weekly hours or a combination of both to match the input of hours to the required output. Such working times, unlike daily or weekly arrangements, may fluctuate between a minimum and a maximum;
- compressed working weeks in which employees work fewer than the five standard days;
- annual hours – scheduling employee hours on the basis of the number of hours to be worked, with provisions for the increase or reduction of hours in any given period, according to the demand for goods or services.
In addition there is the pernicious arrangement of zero-hours contracts in which an employer does not guarantee the employee a fixed number of hours per week. Rather, the employee is expected to be on-call and receive pay only for hours worked. Such contracts are most common in retail, hospitality and restaurants.