This month’s Campaign magazine features the announcement that Publicis Groupe has introduced flexible working for all UK employees. The reason? In the words of UK CEO Annette King, the intention is to demonstrate commitment to “transforming our working culture” in the belief that “this modern, smarter approach will encourage greater productivity across our business while also supporting a healthier work-life balance…”

Publicis is not alone. Flexible working is here to stay. Whether we are talking about compressed work weeks, flexible daily hours or working from home, it’s clear that this construct for contractual latitude holds great appeal for most employees these days. Several sources predict that, within a few years, flexible working will be the overwhelmingly dominant mode of employment.

I support this trend, not simply because I have worked for over 10 years as an independent, self-employed consultant. While the reassuring thud of a salary payment arriving in my bank account is sometimes a cherished memory, the freedom to weave my work obligations and personal interests into a pleasing pattern significantly trumps many of the less fulfilling aspects of corporate life.

The benefits of allowing employees to adopt flexible working are well established and appear positively correlated with higher levels of commitment to the employer organisation and of job satisfaction. The ability better to accommodate (and enjoy!) family commitments, to reduce the strain of commuting and to align workload with individual energy cycles empowers employees with an increased feeling of control over their schedules and work environment.

For employers, evidence suggests that flexible working reduces the turnover of valued staff (especially mothers of young children and so-called millennials), aids recruitment of stronger candidates, helps keep successful teams intact and generally enhances the image of a company.

Greater productivity, however, as mentioned by Annette King, is often cited as the ultimate win-win in a world of work which embraces a more flexible timetable. To this point, a 2017 YouGov survey of British businesses and employees found that 89% considered flexible working to be a key motivator for raising their productive capacity.

But we must take care here. What is greater productivity in this context? With technology transforming our lives, the lines are blurring between work time and leisure time. And while there are advantages to breaking down these traditional boundaries, experts warn of darker consequences.

Flexible working practices can contribute to what has already become an always-on culture by causing people to work more. Described succinctly as ‘work hour creep’, this typically occurs when employees check/respond to emails outside office hours. Clearly, some of this behaviour is embraced as a sign of our times, a convenient means of enhancing efficiency, effectiveness and peace of mind.

On the other hand, fostering a grazing instinct towards work can also maintain dangerous stress hormones at persistently high levels with harmful effects upon physical and psychological health.

The risk is that better productivity results not from smarter working but from workers simply doing more work than if they maintained regular hours, at times when they should be relaxing and recharging.

In truth, therefore, we need to be flexible about flexibility. Rather than productivity per se as a goal, the outcome of flexible working must be a series of targets, agreed by employer and employee, covering a blend of professional and personal priorities. In this way, both work and life elements can be transparently considered and, as a result, consciously balanced.

In creative businesses, where I spent my first career, there is, in my view, a heightened challenge with setting productivity as the Holy Grail. In an advertising agency, for example, measurement can be defined in commercial terms, of course, but the output treasured most by clients is, to quote Mark Twain, “a good story well told.” This is an elusive metric.

And here lies a further watch out with flexible working, given the difficulties right now in nurturing an environment in which, due to the negative impact of our turbulent times, creativity can flourish.

Business design and talent consultancy, The Blueprint, in its recent report on the advertising sector, The Truth About Talent, posed the question ‘where has the creativity gone?’ They go on to provide their own answer: ‘It feels as if the lifeblood of the industry is slowly being drained out’ as a result of fear, conformity and a lack of focus upon the value of bold ideas to drive growth.

I would argue that creative energy is best generated when teams work together in the same space at the same time. This physical togetherness permits spontaneity, intimacy and clarity which, in turn, nourish understanding, confidence and conviction.

In enlightened organisations I don’t doubt that alchemy can co-exist with flexible working but when I see agency people sitting in rows wearing headphones, when I hear of the fashion for sending emails to colleagues a 30 second walk away, I do wonder if the spark of community in creative businesses is under threat from too many angles at once.

This is not to deny the advantages of flexible working. Overall, it’s a positive development. But if, as appears to be the case, its main advocates are from the generation most likely to suffer from digital burnout, then we all need to manage carefully the relationship between what technology permits and how we perform best, however that is defined, but certainly as part of a community at work.

In the illuminating words of an African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”