The New Future of Work

Flexible working, what does that mean to you?


Vish Chopra

3 years ago | 7 min read

Flexible working, what does that mean to you? It’s where work takes place outside of an office environment at least once per week — and we’re all doing it.

Before the pandemic, there was expectation that flexible working would be the default mode of work over the next decade. Infact, only last year I confidently predicted that 75% of UK workers would be working flexibly by 2030.

However, because of the pandemic this has happened at a much faster rate. It happened overnight. March 22nd, most of us were working normally, and the next day, most of us found ourselves in a new kind of normal.

Even though the transition to this new modality of work was varied across different industries, the macro effect was all the same — a lightswitch moment in our history.

Nevertheless, this was a change that was always going to happen. The world of work was already becoming more fluid. Resilience in labour markets (especially in the UK & US) built up from the previous recession instilled new expectations of work-life balance.

Millennial and the emergent Gen Z generations came of age in an era of continual financial and technological disruption, they are now entering senior roles in companies. In 2019, freelance and self-employed workers in the UK economy surged 31% [1], in 2020 it is expected to grow at an even steeper rate as more of us find ourselves stuck at home or out of work.

This all matters. These trends provide a real glimpse into what’s happening in the real economy, especially outside urban centres. So what does it mean? What does it mean now that we’re living through a health crisis? We all knew what the future of work looked like, but how has that outlook changed?

Hybrid Working

Charlie Warzel of the New York Times [2] recently wrote that “You are not working from home. You are laboring in confinement, under duress.” He expanded, “You’re stealing a few minutes to send emails between homeschooling sessions. You’re fighting a cold war with your kids. You’re not thriving, you’re surviving.”

I love this remark, it perfectly sums up the lives of at least 50% of us working from home during lockdown.

The other 50%? Well, they could be thriving. And here lies an interesting point, like with many things in life — work isn’t black and white. Our experience of work is a spectrum of emotions and actions, and this is always going to be the case.

The future of work isn’t going to occupy either ends of the extreme, but flourish across it.

Here’s where the concept of Hybrid Working comes into play.

Rather than foretelling 100% remote working or 100% co-location, we can use a more human method of envisioning the future. People have different behavioural responses when placed in the same situation, and the markers that make this up are complex. In its purest form, some people like working from home, others don’t, and the world of work is going to reflect this.

Those of you reading this will probably slot neatly into either of those two categories, some may sit across both of them, and this provides a good foundation for understanding what Hybrid Working means.

What is Hybrid Working?

If you like working from home, you can do it more. If you don’t, do it less or not even at all. If you’re undecided, or enjoy a mix, then make it work for you. This is the point, it’s flexible, it’s individual, it’s designed around YOU.

One employee can choose to work from home twice a week, another, once a month, and everything in between. Employers will need to step up and discuss with their workers what works best for them.

They need to ask questions like, when do you need flexibility, how can we provide it? The benefits of doing so can be substantial.

For those wary of such an idea, its a good time to highlight that productivity hasn’t declined (in fact in most markers it’s gone up) during this great experiment, and the acceleration of remote working practices has enabled even the most traditional of companies to cater for the flexibility of their workforce.

So rejoice! The heavy lifting has largely been done, the worst has largely been disproved. The challenge ahead is making this new normal stick and getting it right.

The consequences of not doing so aren’t dire, but it sets us up for a future of further declining productivity rates and rising mental illness. If we get it right? Well then, expect a happier, more dynamic, more productive workforce.

The End of the Commute

Imagine a world where train companies no longer define social mobility. For the past 100 years of work, the premise has been that the better physically connected you are, the higher chance you have of climbing the social mobility ladder.

In place of an overpriced, monotonous commute, digital transformation allows workers from across Britain to access any job they like, unconstrained by physical distance.

One of the many excuses I hear from jobseekers in the North is that all the good jobs are elsewhere, and they’re largely right. The North is terribly connected, and as a consequence talent migrates to the big cities or down to London.

It’s been the tragic story of Britain for the past 40 years. An everday commute from a suburb in Sheffield to the centre of Manchester takes over 3 hours, a similar journey in London takes 40 minutes. To top it off, the rising cost of transport and an inability to effectively run services makes commuting a key driver of mental illness in workers.

Most of the argument over the past few years has been to increase investment in infrastructure and particularly the railways. But here’s a dumb question (and I love asking these). Is it better to connect remote towns and cities and concentrate jobs and growth in urban centres like London? Or, is it better to bring those jobs to remote towns and cities that need them most?

Remote working means remote, you can do it anywhere.

Physical distance is no longer a barrier to most forms of work — digital transformation is the new enabler. We’ve learned that productivity hasn’t decreased in remote employees, and that the pandemic has forced many companies to invest in digital infrastructure.

Despite these investments not being solid (yet), and the long-term impacts of Hybrid Working have yet to play out, new digital infrastructure has the potential to connect the economy in an entirely new way.

At the extreme, graduates from Northern universities can stay in Northern towns and cities (where the cost of living is considerably cheaper), and work remotely for a company in London, or internationally. At the least, a worker in St Pauls can choose to live in Leeds because they only have to be in the office a few days a week. For them, a 2 hour commute done twice a week no longer seems so unappealing.

Even if just 20% of us end up working remotely in some way, the business models of the train companies, TFL and Buses all of a sudden don’t work. They rely on the growth of commuting and urbanisation. Take that growth away and the result could be higher prices and lower net investment.


With more of us working from home, we’re beginning to think about office comforts. A designated desk, fresh coffee, connection with others, lunch spots — the culture of another environment. But we also appreciate the flexibility, our home comforts and our independence.

How do we reconcile the two?

The pandemic has been particularly interesting in that it seems to have reversed one of the most sure-fire ultra-long term trends of our society — individualism. For the last 40 years we’ve increasingly seen ourselves less as a collective and more of a collection of individuals.

This has been mirrored in our consumer habits, the way we live our lives and the relationships we have with others. The pandemic hasn’t completely reversed all of this, people are still individualistic in many ways, but they’re starting to place value in the ideals of modern community living.

How many of us have stepped outside our front doors every Thursday to clap for our NHS and smiled at, even spoken to our neighbours? How many of us have joined Facebook groups of our local community? Participated in Joe Wicks’ morning PE lessons? Ordered local products from local businesses? We’ve stumbled upon a renewed sense of community.

So how does this fit with the Future of Work? Well, the idea of Localism is more of a consequence of this new future, rather than a driver.

Think about it. More of us working at home, some will be happy to work from their dining room or flat, many won’t. They’ll need a place to work in productivity and community so that they reconcile the benefits of the office with the benefits of flexibility. Here’s where the real value lies for small towns and cities.

Workers still need to work in a productive environment, eat, socialise, meet. It is a great opportunity for abandoned local high streets to convert empty retail stores into co-working cafes for this new generation of relaxed worker. With local ‘c-offices’, comes other local businesses, and eventually a thriving high street.

Small and micro businesses, which are 60% more likely to be founded during recessions could leverage this new trend by working with local co-working spaces to offer their services on-demand.

Big businesses and employers looking to distribute their workforce could save millions on Central London rent, and reinvest a portion into shared hub workspaces for their valued employees.

For all the above, we’ve tapped into fertile ground for future innovation.

The New Future of Work isn’t about redirecting the trends of 2019, but using a human-centred approach to innovation to understand the opportunities for employers, employees and entrepreneurs.

Whether we arrive at these checkpoints in 2030 or not, the general trajectory is clear — we’re heading towards greater flexibility and autonomy, and the consequences don’t stop at work.


Created by

Vish Chopra







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