The announcement by HSBC’s chief executive Mark Geoghegan that he wants to use technology to move elsewhere half of the 8,000 people currently working at the Canary Wharf headquarters in seven years is interesting for three reasons.

The first is that although he was speaking at a conference, it was clearly carefully planned – The Times and the Guardian have identical quotes – and it doesn’t appear to be a statement about job cuts.

The second is about discourse: the language he used was about framing flexible working as something modern and progressive businesses would want to do as a matter of course:

“I don’t think we’re a really progressive, perceptive company if 8,000 people have to get up every day at an unearthly hour and go back again. Technology should change our thought process.”

The third reason that there are signs that flexible working could be at an inflection point. Some soon-to-be-published research we’ve done at Henley for Orange’s Future Enterprise Coalition suggests that the flexible working data is good at capturing hardcore (full-time/based at home) flexiworkers but not so good at seeing people who work from home a day a week or a day or fortnight, or when it makes business sense – and there are far more of these than has been previously suspected. A relatively small shift in their behaviour could give significant critical mass to flexible working. If HSBC designs its process so that it’s seen as a positive and progressive move by the workforce, rather than being cost-cutting wrapped in velvet soundbites, it is the sort of decision which will accelerate the social shift around flexible working.

(The Orange research is due to be published on 26th June. I’ll blog more around then.)