Book Review - Smart Working; Creating the next wave

Dr Anne Marie McEwan combines academic rigour and industry experience to suggest ideas that are both conservative and revolutionary.

She writes to alert practitioners to relevant research which is hidden from a general audience in academic journals. Creating the next wave of smart working (building on process innovation and control methods implemented in ways that recognise the key value of people’s skills and tacit knowledge) will, she believes, require chaotic action and experimentation to overcome organisational status quo. Social technologies provide tools and an environment for accessing and sharing theoretical and practical knowledge and for building communities within and between organisations. In short, many of the lessons learned from previous changes to work remain relevant but can now be accessed, shared and leveraged in new ways.

Smart Working is not a how to guide. Instead Anne Marie McEwan offers “theoretical insights, design principles and high performance work practices which provide guidance for action”. The ideas and examples will be of most interest to readers passionate about organisational communication and knowledge management, but perseverance is needed to find them.

Smart Working is unlikely to appeal to the general audience Anne Marie McEwan hopes to connect with. The formal overall and chapter structure is intended to help readers follow the threads of discussion. However, clarity is obscured by complex and academic language. Anne Marie McEwan’s admirable desire to highlight the value of earlier academic research means her own voice, opinion and recommendations are lost. Similarly, the forest of references and brief mentions of a wide range of sources and significant ideas make it difficult to find the wood for the trees. The concluding remarks in each chapter are therefore a useful and necessary summary.

Chapter 9 is the most compelling. In it she makes the important point that “smart work” can be achieved at any organisational level and in a variety of situations. The diagnostic checklist in this chapter is a useful tool to identify questions leaders can ask to understand their current organisational context and highlight where change may be beneficial. It helps makes explicit things which might otherwise get lost in the messiness of real world implementation.

This 272 page book is her first and part of Anne Marie McEwan’s ongoing smart work project; augmented by a website, experimental online learning community, blog and personal reflections. Ironically then Smart Working gives little sense of engagement with the author.

first published in HR Monthly, May 2013

Published on Thursday, May 2 2013 by RS5059-GANDI