Image credit @corporaterebels

The way we work isn’t working

Alastair Lechler
6 min readMar 30, 2021


November 28 2019

Populations keep growing, hence competition increases and the result is that people are working harder and longer. Cases of stress and burnout are on the rise. Information flows and is fed to us a greater rate than ever before. Technology is advancing faster than ever and not only are we collaborating with machines — they are replacing our roles. Social inequality is rising, and there are more divisions across society.

This pace of change is accelerating. And ‘talent’ no longer means the same as ten years ago; many of the roles, skills and job titles of tomorrow are unknown to us today. How can organisations prepare for a future that few of us can define? How will talent demands change? And as a business leader, how can you attract, keep and motivate the people you need?

It’s not all doom and gloom though! There is a growing movement of people and businesses challenging the status quo — building better ways of working.

Certified B Corps are a new kind of business that balance purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.

Innovative, ethical business models like B-Corps and social enterprises allows business to invest in people and culture, with a view to humanising the world of work.

I’ve spent nearly 15 years headhunting in the corporate sector, with some global clients like Jaguar Land Rover, Diageo, Deloitte and BP, and have also immersed myself in the vibrant startup community in London and Edinburgh. While the large corporate organisations are making big efforts to adjust their approaches, due to their size they will always struggle to remove the hierarchy structure, which tends to stifle innovation from all layers. Performance-driven cultures typically lead to employees feeling commoditised, and on the whole there is a lack of time and importance placed on developing good management skills.

Startups by their nature are more agile, creative, and able to adopt flexible approaches to deliver the outputs needed to grow. Many young founders are re-writing the rulebook completely! A good example being one of the first to progress through the New Entrepreneurs Foundation Fast Track programme, Mike Bandar, and his Co-Founder James Vardy at Turn Partners. They were dubbed Britain’s best bosses after taking their entire team to Bali for a month!

While startups and entrepreneurship are critical to the economy — for job creation, disruption and innovation — it will be very interesting to see how the large multinational corporations respond to this clear shift in career expectation from the up-and-coming generations.

Just this month Microsoft announced a trial of a 4-day week in Japan. Ernst & Young and many of the larger consulting firms have implemented “dynamic” (flexible) working, thus eliminating the commute, and placing trust in their workforce. Initial signs for both seem positive. Microsoft in fact found a 40% increase in productivity!

There is no doubt that technology continues to transform the world we live in. Operating models are being turned upside down as methods of communication and collaboration have become seamlessly fast and effective. Almost by stealth we all now function with a virtual PA, as Gmail nudges us to reply to unanswered emails, and our phones automatically lift ticket invites into our calendars and create reminders!

What will the future look like as technology plays a bigger and bigger role? In our lifetime we interact with AI to deliver on projects, plan and run events, and book travel and accommodation. There are already cases of “corporate isolation” — as people spend more time working at home, alone — they lose the team camaraderie and connection that, I suggest, many of us currently take for granted.

What are the implications for education, training and development? For me — all of the human elements will become exponentially more valuable and valued. Empathy, communication, leadership and creativity are the first that spring to mind.

Helen Denny who runs Not9to5 says:

“I founded Not9to5 because the way we work isn’t working. Primarily the inspiration came from working as a freelancer and experiencing the stresses and strains that come from non-traditional working styles. Over time I realised that it was my networks, and the meaningful connections and valuable learning I experienced when embracing them, that were keeping me afloat.

I completely agree with Alastair that it’s easy to overlook how much we value the connections we make at work. Isolation resulting from home working is a significant and growing problem that I find very concerning. Creating a professional community that people can connect into, regardless of the way they work, is one of the key focuses of Not9to5. We are a community of people looking to thrive in the Not9to5 and to shape the future of work. We do this largely through events for entrepreneurs, small businesses and freelancers chasing the work styles that suit them. It’s a challenge balancing that with looking after a business and your own well-being, our events create a forum where we can share insight and support.

The traditional workplace is starting to evolve, there’s far more focus on flexibility, innovation and space for individuals to grow than even a decade ago. Alastair mentioned the introduction of flexible working in mature, global organisations and I find this very heartening. Not9to5 works with organisations to help them implement flexible working practices that suit their strategies and staff. Flexible working is a meaningful step towards a future of work that works around our lives, rather than the other way round.

Alastair also posed the question about the future of education, training and development. What will we need to know in the future if technology continues to advance at the current speed? I agree that, at this intersection of history, it’s time to start truly valuing human insight. There are certain things only humans can do and to discover those we need to be free to pursue our passions and interests. Not9to5 provide all sorts of training and opportunities to learn. The more we learn now the more prepared we will be for the future, even when tackling the big unknowns!”

Examining the future of work has always been central to Not9to5. We’re working to help individuals and organisations shape their future into something more fit for purpose. To do that we have to look at how we do things now, how we want to do things in the future and then work to bridge that gap. Everything we do is underpinned by the principles: connect, learn and collaborate.

Connect with people to get the support you need personally and professionally. We all need people, particularly when we’re pushing for progress. Learn to inform your work, about new and innovative ways to do things and for the sheer joy of it! The human brain needs to be fed with information to find inspiration. Collaboration is the route to success, it can be a challenge and often it’s a new way of doing things that requires a big transformation. But to create a future of work that really works, we need to collaborate on creating it.



Alastair Lechler

Social entrepreneur, passionate about people, disruptive innovation - #techforgood, humanity in business. Edinburgh's Running Mayor & Founder of ReBoot CIC