Flexible working practices key to future, says academic

In a lecture on the ‘post-work world’, Dr Justin Davis-Smith of the Centre for Charity Effectiveness outlines four ways in which charities should respond to a future in which most people work fewer hours

Charities should introduce more flexible working practices and build better partnerships with the private sector to help society adjust to a world where people work significantly fewer hours, according to a fellow at Cass Business School.

Dr Justin Davis-Smith, senior research fellow at the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School, was giving a lecture on charities and the post-work world, a future in which some believe that greater automation could render as many as 50 per cent of jobs obsolete.

Davis-Smith said that for a more utopian vision of the effect of widespread job losses to come true, charities had four ways in which they could help.

First, he said, charities should model good workplace practices themselves and campaign for the private and public sectors to follow suit.

“I think we have a responsibility as charities and voluntary organisations to take a lead in terms of restructuring our workplaces,” he said.

“So that means offering more opportunities for flexible working, more opportunities for job sharing, and more ways in which people can blend their use of time in the paid labour market with hobbies, voluntary action and charitable activity.”

Second, Davis-Smith said, charities should be more creative in terms of engaging people in social action and volunteering, and in finding ways of blending that with their paid work and other activities.

He said this involved understanding the rise of episodic volunteering, “the desire to just dip in and out of volunteering and wrap it around their lives rather than engage in something for an extended period of time”.

Third, said Davis-Smith, the sector should note the “blurring of the boundaries” between the private and voluntary sectors, and build better relationships with ethical businesses.

“I think there’s a real opportunity for charities and community groups to make much more meaningful partnerships with for-profit groups to try to pick up on the appetite, particularly from the millennial generation, to work in organisations that are doing some social good,” he said.

“I think what we are seeing is that young people in particular are not that choosy about where they work and which sector they work in; they just want to do some good. It seems to me there is a real opportunity for our sector to build more meaningful partnerships with small businesses, social enterprises, B-Corps and some emerging hybrid organisations that are blending for-profit and not-for-profit motives.”

Finally, Davis-Smith said, charities should look at the “sharing economy”– Uber and AirBnB, for example – and how a more “social aspect” could be introduced to that concept.

But he also warned about the challenge to established charities of retaining relevance in a world where technology makes it easier for people to “self-organise”. He said charities should begin to better understand the ideas and values that cause people to interact in this way.

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