Eight emerging themes

Eight emerging themes: Flexibility


Flexibility is a thread that runs through each of the drivers of change. Technology has acted as a facilitator, with video-conferencing and improved connectivity increasing flexibility in where work is done.

Technological platforms have contributed to the emergence of the gig economy, providing both companies and individuals with flexibility as to the when and how much of work. To date, the gig economy is most visible in delivery riders and drivers meeting the needs of online shopping and home delivery of meals. Even as far back as 2009, former New Yorker editor Tina Brown was predicting the rise of the “gig economy” among higher-paid professional workers.

State intervention will support flexible working practices through fresh regulation. Since 2014, all British employees have had a legal right to request flexible working after six months in the job. The UK government is currently consulting on extending this right from day one of employment and including the right to request homeworking.

Countries around the world will adapt employment laws in the years ahead to clarify the working status and rights of gig economy workers and other non-traditional workers. The aim will be to maintain flexibility while ensuring that worker rights and the tax and social security implications are appropriate for the modern working world. 

Demographic change will drive flexibility in the who of work. Employers will need greater flexibility to attract and retain skilled workers as the rapid changes in the world of work lead to skill shortages and labour supply takes time to catch up with new demands. Employers will need to broaden their horizons in recruitment, looking beyond their traditional hiring pools to other groups with the potential to contribute productively. Examples include: older workers, many of whom have found homeworking liberating and a reason to delay retirement (see demographics – ageing population); candidates outside their traditional geographic recruitment market (see migration – cross-border working); and those with caring responsibilities. 

Changing societal values and priorities and the increasing desire for a work/life balance will also drive increased flexibility (see social trends – work/life balance).