The future of working is deskless

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that flexible working is the future of the modern workforce. Technology is enabling us to work anytime and from anywhere (whether we like it or not!) and since June 2014, UK employees have had the right, by law, to request flexible hours. As the next generation come through the ranks, the expectation of a 9–5 job will become less and less of a reality.

And yet, the idea of flexible working doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, it could actually be quite limiting.

Those embracing new forms of working tend to be the self-employed, sole traders and office workers who negotiated flexible terms with forward thinking employers.The trouble is though that anyone can work from home nowadays and be quite successful at it. So where’s the competitive advantage?

All you need is a laptop and a mobile phone while tools like Google, LinkedIn and Twitter act as your network that give direct access to virtually anyone in the world.

Wherever your place of work, everyone can have a 1:1 phone conversation with a San Francisco-based investor or attend a Google Hangout management meeting. The more flexibly we work, the more the limitations of desk-based work become prominent. No longer can we hide behind laptop screens, rely on the same social media tools that everybody else is using, and expect to come out on top.

To make a real difference in our job and our careers, we need to go deskless and start living our working lives in the real world. We have come full circle to a time where meetings are conducted face to face and agreements are closed with a firm handshake.

With flexible working the focus is on work where you want — home, your local Starbucks or an international trade show. In sharp contrast, deskless working is about how you work and who you work with.

To be digitally connected while cultivating real-life and personal relationships. It is the difference between doing ok and doing brilliantly.

We are social animals and professional success hinges on our ability to build strong business relationships with our boss, other colleagues, industry peers and investors. Seeing the whites of each other’s eyes can do a lot to support understanding, build trust, and convey the nuances when it comes to business talk.

It is worth flying to San Francisco for a face-to- face meeting with a potential investor and to spend social time together, sharing a drink or a meal. It adds depth — or value – to the mutual understanding that is simply impossible to achieve via a Skype call.

On the downside, you may be thinking that these new ways of working will add something to your to-do list. It’s true — it could be a recipe for disaster if not managed well. Many of us already face information overload and coming back to a bulging Inbox following a conference or meeting tips the scales against a healthy work/life balance.

It is tempting to want to do it all but as The Work Foundation found, we need to address attitudes to new ways of working, ensuring employees are working smarter, rather than longer.

If we spend more time creating value via face-to- face contact, then by default we have less time to spend on email management for example. In order to stay on top of things, we must prioritise which incoming information and requests to act on.

Luckily we live in exciting times where artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way we receive and handle information. When we cut out the noise, we can focus on the conversations — real and online — with the most important people in our lives.

Deskless is the new realm of working regardless of where you sit in the workplace.

We are going back to the ‘good old days’ of meeting people face to face, while staying digitally connected to all our most important people. To succeed we will need to rely on tools such as AI, which can help us organise our digital lives. When we are free to nurture real-life relationships we can elevate our careers to the next level and be truly remarkable.