A cull of middle management is looming, according to a new report by Henley Management College.
The report warns that too many managers have failed to adapt to the changing nature of the workplace and face exposure unless they change their management techniques and improve their skills.
The problem has been identified in a report entitled Managing Tomorrow's Worker, which found that the growing number of flexible workers in the UK has exposed the lack of capability among many of the UK's middle management.
The fear is that the booming economy - and the consequent shortage of talented replacements - has so far enabled these managers to hide but any downturn will result in their lack of skills being uncovered.
The research, which was conducted between February 2004 and March 2005 on behalf of Microsoft, is said to be the first qualitative study in the UK to examine how workers of the future can and should be managed.
It is part of Tomorrow's Work, a long term comprehensive study initiated by Microsoft to explore how UK citizens will behave, work and succeed in their professional environments in the information age.
Peter Thomson, director of the Future Work Forum at Henley Management College and author of the report, said "British management is at a significant crossroads.
"For years, managers have been used to managing people by simply watching over them. With the rise in flexible working, that style will have to completely change or else we face the prospect of managers holding back the tide of flexible working, like a modern-day King Canute."
The key findings of the report are: n Many more organisations now have flexible working policies which mean managers have to work in different ways in order to effectively manage staff. n The key organisational advantages of flexible working are staff attraction and retention, improvement in work/life balance, higher productivity, reduction in commuting and lower stress levels, despite people often working longer hours. n For managers, team working and communications become significantly more difficult with the trend towards flexible working. n Flexible working requires significantly more trust on the part of a manager and there has to be a shift away from the more traditional 'controlling' style of management. n Managers also need to migrate to managing more by outcomes than inputs. n Managers worry about losing control and the difficulty in building and maintaining a sense of unity among dispersed team members.
Alistair Baker, managing director of Microsoft UK, said "Information technology is fundamentally changing the way we work. This creates opportunities for business, but also requires people to adapt if they want to take advantage of them.
"In a rapidly evolving environment workers and managers must be given the chance to explore new ways of working and have technology they can trust to deliver the results they want."
Mr Thomson has five recommendations for managers of flexible workers: He says that it's the result that matters. What is important is getting the job done, not when and where it is done. Set objectives and measure achievement against them, trusting employees to manage their own time. Reward results and avoid 'presenteeism' and the 'long hours' culture;
He also wants to beef up communication. The growth in remote working means people will spend less time face to face and will not have the same opportunities to build relationships with colleagues. Mr Thomson says it is important to keep a balance between formal, factual communications and the informal;
The grapevine is still important, he adds. It is too easy just to focus on job results and forget that most work involves people working effectively together in teams. He believes that it is vital social contact is maintained in virtual teams for people to work collaboratively;
But technology can help. Mr Thomson says mobile IT has freed up people to work apart but it also has the power to bring people together.
Managers need to use the different media in a planned way that best suits their operation;
And finally, he wants firms to train, train and train again.
New patterns of work need a higher standard of management so managers themselves should be trained in the best ways of implementing remote working patterns. Employees also need to learn to work differently and adjust to a more independent environment, he said.