Is flexible working expanding the gulf between desk-based and deskless workers?

In the last three years, organizations have been spurred by increasingly empowered employees and the pandemic fallout to imagine new ways of working. Top of the list of wants from staff has been greater flexibility, either in terms of location or time. But at what cost?

Some companies have been able to amend working policies, accommodate worker demands, and in doing so attract and retain top talent. However, a large number of industries with frontline or “deskless” workers — such as teachers, retail assistants, hospitality staff, healthcare professionals, factory workers, and public-transport operators, without whom the smooth running of society would be impossible — have been incapable, by the nature of the jobs, of offering significant levels of flexibility. 

While well-meaning and purportedly progressive organizations have now built in as much flexibility and autonomy as possible in the former group, as an unintended consequence, they are creating an ever-expanding gulf between desk and deskless workers.

And it’s a growing worry, given 2.7 billion people — about 80% of the global workforce — operate without a desk, meaning they have roles that involve interacting directly with people, machines, and infrastructure. Where’s their flexibility?

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in January 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Published by

Oliver Pickup

Multi-award-winning writer, content editor, ghostwriter, and TV and radio commentator (and occasional illustrator), specialising in technology, blockchain, startups, business, sport and culture. Founder of Pickup Media Limited. Interviewer of death row prisoners, legendary athletes, influential leaders, tech trendsetters, and cultural pioneers. By-lined in every English newspaper. Contributor to dozens of multinational publications.

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