'Flexible working' is a buzz-word that appears on many a job description, but in most cases what companies really mean is flexi-time: letting staff clock on and off at times that suit their needs. Whilst working more convenient hours has enabled many an office worker to dispatch a child to school or wait in for a parcel, it's really only a small part of truly flexible working.
The more exciting issue is how employees can function without being in the office full stop. After all, what's the point of working the hours you want if you spend all of them chained to a desk? As technology moves on, it's becoming possible to liberate people entirely from the constraints of a fixed line phone, desktop computer or office postcode.
We had a slightly tongue-in-cheek guess at what this might look like...
Okay, so we probably won't end up conducting business meetings from all of those places, but it's not such a ridiculous suggestion when you think of some of the technologies that have sprung up in recent years.
Employees can now operate almost entirely independently of their swivel-chair - whether logging into their desktop remotely or holding entire meetings via video conference (something that not long ago was the preserve of James Bond films). In today's world, people can access their entire working life via a mobile or tablet, with files and contacts stored in the cloud and accessible anywhere there's an internet connection. Documents can be edited simultaneously on different sides of the globe, and a generation of people who grew up with MSN Messenger and SMS can now ping instant messages to each other instead of disappearing down a rabbit hole of endless email chains.
This technology is with us right now, but according to research we conducted, more than half of UK workers still aren't able to work remotely. Businesses around the country are still resolutely compelling people to work from an office every day - leading to demotivated staff, higher overheads and years of dead time frittered away on commuting. People go home and use tools like Dropbox and Skype with their family and friends, but at work they exist in a time-warp - fretting as big attachments bounce back and conflicting versions of documents breed overnight.
If this sounds familiar, it might be worth a quiet word at work. Not with your IT department: they already know that UC is 'the future', and have probably been lobbying for years to get the board to agree. No, it's everyone else you need to persuade. If digitally-savvy employees don't advocate for this kind of technology, IT managers are left to tackle entire organisations that simply shrug and say 'if it ain't broke...'
So next time your inbox clogs, or the meeting rooms are fully booked, or you're sneezed on by a fellow-passenger, take a moment to think about what your day could look like. How much time would you save, and how much more could you do? Put it in those terms and your boss will be hard-pressed to accuse you of skiving. It may be that they simply haven't considered how drastically it could transform the way you work.