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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Smart Flexibility: Moving Smart and flexible Working from Theory to Practice
Article-type: Suggested reading From: Development and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal, Volume 28, Issue 6
Andy Lake, Gower Publishing, 2013, Price £70.
This is a timely text aiming to provide managers with a guide to what Lake (editor of Flexibility) calls “smart flexibility” in their organization in a business-focused way. Smart Flexibility is borne out of five key thought processes; first that practicality is key rather than “evangelizing”. Second, that flexible working needs to be business-focused, so that it benefits the bottom line in a way that is central to corporate strategy rather than just a bolt-on. The third key idea is that flexible working should not simply be within the remit of HR but should be interdisciplinary. A fourth underlying principle of the text is that any changes implemented are measurable and, finally, the fifth idea is that change is endemic; to fight it is futile. All these five underlying principles guide the book throughout its story.
Smart Flexibility is thus a practical read, but with the benefit of sound theoretical underpinning. It draws on large organizations within the private, public and third sector to illustrate arguments and to provide case study material; a total of ten case studies are included of organizations that are embedding Smart Flexibility in their working practices.
The book is divided into 13 chapters that take the reader on a journey from defining flexibility at the start, through to the drivers and practicalities and ending with Top Tips. Some of the material is not necessarily new, but presented in a way that this book really feels like an “ultimate” guide to flexible working. I particularly liked the nine trajectories of change that are outlined early on as drivers for new, flexible ways of working; while none are new to me, they are fully developed and provide a convincing argument for the less informed. Similarly, the five “drivers” for smart flexibility may not be new arguments, but they are essential reading for anyone who still does not “get” the benefits of introducing flexible working styles for the bottom line of the business.
Along the same lines, I found Chapter 4, “Building the business case for smart flexibility” of particular interest, as I feel that for many organizations, it is the issue of convincing senior management of the benefits of this flexibility that is often the stumbling block to implementing change. Indeed, I felt the book takes a slightly defensive tone in this regard, but this is probably justified given the commonly help belief that flexible working is just a “nice” thing to offer (rather than something that makes business sense). This chapter is followed by an insightful chapter on “Who can work flexibly?” which includes psychological profiles as well as different job types.
The practicalities of flexible working follows, with in-depth discussion about hot-desking (pros, cons and optimal policies) and even discussion about how to address concerns about “where am I going to keep my pencils?” A flexible working environment must, says Lake, address the vital issue of storage, and storage strategies and audits are discussed (a good solution, he suggests, is to adopt “puppies” which are not cuddly animals, but mobile lockers on wheels).
Of course, no discussion of flexible working is complete without adequate attention to technology and communication and this book proves no exception. Using these to develop “people skills at a distance” is key, and there are many useful approaches and systems suggested in this book. And, naturally, the sustainability model is also expounded upon, with benefits for a greener world outlined.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, even if I found some of the ideas rather too alarming for me; as an academic, I embrace home-working but the suggestion that we do not need any offices within Universities are taking things a tad too far for me! But, the book is a thought-provoking read and one that I feel should be essential reading for any managers wishing to take flexible working seriously within their organization.
Reviewed by Sandi Mann
The review was originally published in Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 34 No. 6, pp. 588-589.