The free-range future of work

Steve Messer
3 min readNov 2, 2020

For organisations that use computers to get stuff done, the Internet means you can spread bits of your organisation out geographically and temporally.

Spreading a workforce geographically is usually called remote working or distributed working. That’s when workers aren’t necessarily close to the location of the main office, they live and work elsewhere. There’s also hybrid working, which is when people are expected to come into an office some times but can work from wherever they like the rest of the time.

Spreading a workforce temporally is usually called flexible working or asynchronous working. That’s when workers aren’t always required to be working at the same time as each other. Although more often than not, there’s usually some ‘core hours’ workers have to be present and available.

For various reasons, some groups of people have experimented with the opportunity the Internet has provided. It has allowed them to find new ways of doing things or new ways of living. And, for another variety of reasons, some people haven’t bothered.

Then, in March, that all changed. Anyone who could work online, usually from a computer, was forced to try this stuff out. If their company hadn’t tried out these new ways of working, they became a guinea pig overnight. A mouse in a maze, without a scientist overseeing the experiment.

That sucks because, as an organisation, you don’t know what works and what doesn’t. Your workers have been forced to try new things and will have reached their own conclusions. Some might like it, others might not be so keen. There will likely be some people for whom the experience has been traumatic, and those people are going to need our help.

So, ignoring whoever’s job it is to do this stuff, I think it’s time for people working on computers to look sideways (metaphorically) and help each other out. If you manage a team or you’re part of a team, it’s time to build your own New Normal.

Here’s some notes I’ve been making on free-range working (a term coined by Steve Parks). And you might like to read about this experiment we tried with meetings and emails.

Notes on free-range working

  1. We’re trying to create more serendipity for innovation…
Steve Messer

Product manager, GOV.UK Design System, Government Digital Service