2021 Emerging themes


2021 Report

The 2021 Report identified flexibility as a thread running through all eight drivers of change. It noted that technology, demographic and social changes, and Covid in particular, were key accelerators of greater flexibility. The 2021 Report considered the role which the growth in platform working and other non-traditional working arrangements has played in meeting this demand for greater flexibility, while at the same time challenging the boundaries of a regulatory framework which has failed to keep up to date in providing appropriate clarity and rights. Flexibility impacts on the how, when, from where and how much people work.

Read extract from 2021 Report

2022 and beyond

The desire for flexibility shows no signs of abating, notwithstanding current global and economic woes.

Despite flexible working being forced on many workers during the pandemic, the appetite for flexibility and the growth of flexible working arrangements continues. This flexibility represents a shift away from the traditional model of full-time, 9 to 5, office-based work to a model embracing a variety of ways of working.

The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey showed that for 20% of Gen Z and 21% of Millennials flexibility as to work, location was important in choosing an employer, and that a good work-life balance was the most important feature (32% Gen Z and 39% Millennials).

Flexibility is often still subject to significant control by the employer. However, true flexibility entails giving employees agency and control over how to exercise the flexibility. While understanding employee motivation is complex, research suggests that intrinsic human motivation – one’s autonomous motivation for personal, psychological growth – is the foundational catalyst of human success and fulfilment.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Holger Reisinger and Dane Fetterer created a hierarchy examining the most common work arrangements in the world today against the degree of autonomy and flexibility – the “autonomy/flexibility spectrum ”.

Reisinger and Fetterer: Autonomy/Flexibility Spectrum

  • Low autonomy, low flexibility: I am mandated to be in the office full time.
  • Low autonomy, medium flexibility: I work from both home and the office, but my organisation tells me which days to be in which place.
  • Medium autonomy, medium flexibility: I can work from multiple locations, but with a minimum number of days required in-office each week.
  • Medium autonomy, high flexibility: I am mandated to work remotely full time but can choose where I want to work.
  • High autonomy, high flexibility: I can work wherever, whenever, with full access to my organisation's office space.

Flexibility can build workforce resilience, enabling organisations to adapt and evolve to meet changing circumstances. It has also led to the emergence of a plethora of working arrangements, providing employees with the flexibility they need while enabling employers to manage fluctuating demand and expand the locations from which they can employ people, whether nationally or internationally. Platform work is a high-profile example of work arrangements which have the potential to provide both employer and employee with flexibility. The increasing expansion of the gig economy into knowledge jobs has coincided with heavier reliance on different contracting arrangements, including zero hours contracts and agency workers. The challenge continues to be to balance important flexibilities for both the individual and the organisation alongside appropriate levels of protection for workers.

Flexibility is available only to a part of the workforce and the focus in some sectors and industries on flexibility risks exacerbating inequality and division, thereby driving further divergence in the experience of work for some.

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