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Say hello to uber-flexibility: The proper way to approach the gig economy

There can be no clearer indication that office life as we know it is facing extinction than the news that a Big Four accountancy firm is inviting candidates to come up with their own pattern of working hours when they apply for a job.

The professional services sector has long been a bastion of 9 to 5 routine, discipline and structure, which is precisely why PwC’s Flexible Talent Network is such a game changer.

By asking applicants to list their skills and preferred work pattern at entry, the firm is proposing to match recruits to projects rather than defined roles, reaping the benefits of the skills in the market without scaring off millennials and work-life balance aficionados.

The response? Apparently 2000 people registered with the Flexible Talent Network within the first two weeks, backing up the company’s belief that modern businesses need to offer greater flexibility and alternative working options if they are to attract the best people. The reason for this is not simply to do with bringing themselves up to date with current working trends and lifestyles.

Flexible working is good for business and according to a recent article in HR Review it could add £148bn to the UK economy by 2030. Of the 16 countries studied during for the research behind these figures, the UK had the highest proportion of employment associated with flexible workspace at 11%.

The study reported by HR Review this week suggests that flexible workspace is up to 75% cheaper than fixed office space and that adopting a more fluid approach to working hours can reduce operating costs and boost productivity. This is in addition to the fact that it allows employers to match skills to specific projects or areas of their business and to attract those elusive professionals who prefer not to be restricted to a 9 to 5 role.

Our recent Sideboard interview with leadership expert Laura Bouttell hints at some of the reasons why the UK’s most talented employees and leaders are becoming so hard to pin down.

In the article Leadership, burnout and the importance of taking a break Laura says: “When people ask me how my summer was and I say, “it was great, I took most of August off”, people can’t believe me.”

Laura insists that we need to focus more on quality of life and creating a sustainable balance between life in the office and time for ourselves. If you find yourself working before breakfast and after the rest of the family have gone to bed, the chances are you’re going to burn out eventually, she says.

The gig economy has grown up around a desire from workers for greater flexibility and the economic aspiration of employers to be able to tailor their service to demand. It has had a shaky start but, as time goes on and established firms begin to recognise the commercial advantages it can bring, I truly feel that the gig economy is finally starting to grow up.

What I believe we can expect in the not too distant future is a new era of uber-flexibility, which incidentally has nothing to do with taxis but has everything to do with the gig economy. One interesting phenomenon that has sprung up in the US is a company called Remote Year which offers professionals an opportunity to work in their dream location for a year or even move from city to city every month whilst still maintaining their regular job. The fact that millennials are typically taking longer to “settle down” and many see themselves as global residents rather than having a fixed community or abode, means we are likely to see more of this kind of employment initiative, particularly from employers who are keen to attract tech-savvy talent.

The thought of family lawyers city-hopping whilst remotely negotiating a client’s divorce settlement may sound like the stuff of fairy tales, but then who would have believed a decade ago that we’d be ordering our takeaways on an app?