How tech is making work more flexible

31 December 2017

Uber. Deliveroo. Even AirBnB. Tech businesses that have transformed their industries, for better or worse and helped to embed a new phrase into our vocabularies, the ‘gig economy’.

Flexible working technology

Visit a major city in Western Europe and the chances are that you’ll be able to take an Uber from the airport, to stay in your AirBnB, and get your dinner delivered from a local restaurant with Deliveroo. The driver of your taxi, the owner of your ‘BnB’ and the rider who cycled to a local restaurant to collect your food for you likely will all have been self-employed.

Tech companies like Uber and Deliveroo have managed to recruit people around the world based in part on the promise of flexible hours. ‘Choose when to work’ is the message on Deliveroo’s website^, ‘Set your own schedule’ is Uber’s; the employment model centres around flexibility, and it’s a model that has been phenomenally popular, with an estimated 40,000 people driving for Uber in London alone.

This article is an extract from our report on access to employment.

Download the access to employment report PDF 2.7MB

Since the turn of the century, the number of self-employed has increased by 43% to the start of 20161. The self-employed now make up over 15% of all employment2 . Although there was an increase around the financial crisis of 2008 in self-employment, this trend goes back to the start of the last decade.

UK labour market 1970-2016 (000’s)

Graph shows the growth in the UK labour market from 1970 - 2016

Productivity – output per worker (2015 index base)

Graphs shows actual and forecast productivity per worker in the UK

(Source: ONS)

Flexible working

Alongside this growth ‘flexible working’ has entered the working lexicon. Big businesses have been able to make efficiency savings by reducing the number of fixed desks in their offices. Barclays is among them, with many of our head office functions now operating hot desking policies, and enabling staff to work from home using internet-based collaboration tools such as Office 365.

14 desks cost the equivalent of one police officer

And even the most traditional-seeming organisations are in on the act – the Metropolitan Police recently downsized their main HQ from one that had 3,500 permanent desks to one with just 550.

“It’s all about agile working,” the Met’s director of real estate development told the Guardian^, with police officers and support staff also utilising new technology to be able to work remotely. A study by the Met suggested 40% of desks were unoccupied at any one time, and that 14 desks cost the equivalent of one police officer. The cost savings have been driven by necessity, but enabled by technology.

Productivity growth

One thing technology doesn’t seem to have helped with recently is productivity growth. As we heard in the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget, and have heard for most of the Government’s fiscal events since 2010, productivity growth has stalled since 2007, and the output per worker is around the same now as it was ten years ago.

(Source: ONS)

The Chancellor is investing more than £31 billion into a National Productivity Investment Fund, which will be used to invest in everything from wifi on trains to roads and the rollout of 5G mobile signals, helping people to potentially keep working further and further afield from the traditional office.

So the technology revolution isn’t over; in fact 5G will likely signal (excuse the pun) the next phase.

This article is an extract from our report on access to employment.

1ONS - Trends in self-employment in the UK: 2001 to 2015 
2ONS - UK labour market: September 2017