Peter has been fascinated with the organisation of work for most of his career. He has written many articles and blogs about the evolution of new working practices and spoken at numerous conferences on the subject. His current interest is in agile, self-managing organisations.
His interest in the future of work started when he was Personnel Director for Northern Europe in Digital Equipment, which was a pioneering user of technology for teleworking. When he left Digital , Peter became a Visiting Fellow at Henley Business School where he studied the changing patterns of work and the leadership implications of these trends. At the same time he formed Wisework, a leading consultancy in the field of smart working.
In 2011 Peter teamed up with Alison Maitland to write ‘Future Work‘ which became a best selling book. His most recent book, before Never Going Back, was a collaboration with the two directors of Matt Black Systems, titled “500%: how two pioneers transformed productivity”. Peter is now director of the Future Work Forum, a ‘think tank’ of leading consultants from across the globe.
Mark has been at the helm of his innovative and award-winning marketing consultancy for 30 years. Over that time Word Association has served over 200 clients, created more than 50 jobs and turned over in excess of £15 million. The consultancy has featured in the top 10 positions of PR Week regional and sector league tables and has won his profession’s leading accolade, a CIPR Excellence Award. Big name clients include BMW and IBM as well as government bodies, universities, NHS Trusts, local authorities, national charities and SMEs.
Mark puts down much of Word Association’s success to his innovative style of management. Long before it was fashionable in the late 1990s, Mark managed his team remotely making the most of the then emerging technology, trail-blazing a results-focused approach built on trusting his workers.
Word Association was a Future Work Award winner in 2002 and has been featured in the Mail on Sunday and The Guardian. His story has inspired and entertained audiences at numerous conferences – both nationally and internationally – run by bodies such as the Institute of Directors and British Chambers of Commerce. As a pioneer and expert in hybrid working he has become a leading authority on future work trends.
… and how the authors met
Mark Thomas’ hybrid working journey began in 1998 when he was in his late thirties. A new Dad of two daughters he was in his sixth year of running his marketing consultancy Word Association.
“My work life was becoming ever more stressful and I was missing out on family time,” he explains. “Then one day I had this great idea, we – me, my wife and kids could go travelling for a year in a motorhome and I could run the business remotely.
“There was this unique window of opportunity, just over a year between when my office lease expired and when my oldest started school. It was now or never,” I thought “plus I’d noticed that if I got my timing right we’d start our journey just as the 1998 World Cup in France kicked off!”
After a successful consultation exercise he moved his small staff team to home working for the duration of the year away planning to keep in touch via this new-fangled thing called the Internet! He then set about getting all the technology in to facilitate this which included a small suitcase of phone connectors.
“After David Beckham ruined my World Cup dream,” said Mark “We headed east, as far as Russia, and south, into North Africa, particularly enjoying our time in the Baltics and the Balkans. I kept in touch with the business as best I could but as the months passed it soon became clear that things were not going well and I returned to a business in deep trouble.
“I’d spent part of my year away thinking about what I wanted to do with my life and had decided somewhat fortuitously that I wanted to carry on with the business but run it better. As much for financial reasons as anything else, I could no longer afford an office, I decided to continue with home working and set about rebuilding my business. Not long after I got in touch with a company called WiseWork headed up by one Peter Thomson.
Peter’s expertise – he had worked with managers at all levels, coaching and training them to introduce a more flexible approach to work – helped Mark get to grips with managing a remote team. It led to a decade of growth for Word Association with turnover increasing year on year by 20 percent. Mark puts down much of this period of success to the innovative style of management – a results-focused approach built on trusting his workers – that Peter helped to embed.
The consultancy soon climbed into the top 10 positions of the trade journal PR Week regional and sector league tables. He also won his profession’s leading accolade, a CIPR Excellence Award for a PR, design and digital campaign the judges described as “utterly compelling”. Mark and Peter kept in touch after that often presenting together at major conferences about the future of work.
Then in 2010 Peter started writing ‘Future Work’ which proved popular enough for the publishers to describe it as a ‘best seller’ and ask for an updated second edition. This latest version was published in March 2014 and contains many new case studies – including one on Word Association – and an extra chapter on implementation.
A few years after that event Mark, as many will do after the pandemic, moved his business to a more hybrid way of working. While he, and his team, continued to mostly work he again leased an office which was used primarily for hot-desking, creative sessions and meeting clients.
Fast-forward now to 2020 and Mark, who’d turned 60 in June, was contemplating the wreckage of a year of thwarted plans which would have included more campervan travel. In a quiet moment he dropped a LinkedIn message to his old colleague Peter floating an idea for collaborative consultancy work.
“It was a nice surprise hearing from Mark,” said Peter. “I too had been contemplating life and work during a challenging year and had just finished my previous book ‘500%’ telling the story of a revolutionary company that had massively improved productivity. I was ready for a new project and the idea of working with Mark looked promising. From my perspective we were in the middle of the biggest disruption to work that had happened in my lifetime and I was ready to document it in some way.”
The messaging eventually graduated to Zoom and soon the idea of working together on a book about how Covid-19 was changing the world of work came about. ‘Never Going Back – How Covid-19 changed work for good’, they decided to call it. And together they never looked back!