All of my clients and the majority of my friends know that my employer extends me the flexibility of being able to work from almost any location.
As Forfusion’s Business Development Manager for the South of England, with our HQ based in Newcastle, I spend a lot of time either at client, prospect or vendor offices, as well as working from home or from a coffee shop sipping on double espressos!
Yet despite my location, I still have access to all my colleagues and all of my data and information I need at any time, from anywhere and pretty much on any device I choose to use.
It’s become a legal requirement
Over the last few years, and more so in the last few months, our messaging here at Forfusion talks a lot about flexible working, implementing initiatives and change in the work place that organisations are increasingly asking about, whether that is through choice or in fact through new legislation.
As someone that talks to my clients about their business challenges I have been acutely aware of a change to the law over the last 12-18 months. Did you know that every single employee has the legal right to request flexible working? Everyone – not just parents or carers.
More recently was the landmark EU travel time ruling, which decreed that any time spent travelling for employment reasons is now legally defined as working time, thus a legal precedent for paying employees for the time spent travelling to work has been established.
So ok, in reality the powers that be can always refuse a request on appropriate ‘business grounds’ however, these changes have booted the door open for companies to seriously look at how they can transform and improve their business operations. It’s giving the employee far more control than ever before!
The benefits are vast
In my opinion, there is no getting away from this trend. Whatever you want to call it, remote/flexible working is here to stay and not just for the minority. Quite simply, the benefits of embracing this approach can be applied to the biggest of teams, not just the individual key worker.
Increased productivity (which some studies suggest is compromised in an office environment), fewer sick days, helping to reduce the frustration of the daily commute, reducing your carbon footprint, improving creativity, improving efficiencies.
These are just some of the benefits that I, and many others, talk about when trying to demonstrate the ROI for such an idealised philosophy.
The benefits can be vast, however one thing people will not always talk about are the human challenges that business will face.
It doesn’t matter how big or small, from the five man band through to the multinational, billion dollar company, there are a number of hurdles that they will need to overcome in implementing a successful flexible working strategy. It doesn’t just require “Business Transformation,” but a transformation in the staff, their core beliefs and to their attitudes too.
Dispelling the myths
So what are some of these perceived challenges (or what I would call myths)? How can they be overcome (or indeed dispelled)?
1. Trust – or to be precise, the lack of it. In my experience, this has got to be one of the main reasons that the majority of companies in the UK struggle to get their heads around implementing flexible or remote working as company policy.
I’ve heard it so many times, “How can we be sure that are our staff are actually working and not having a lie in, down the pub or on a golf course?” “How do we know our data and our IP is safe?” I’ve even experienced that ethos first hand in a previous role, some management teams want to see their teams in front of them, be able to walk around and rule their empire..
But now, the tools and the technology are far more advanced and have been created specifically to address these issues. Whether it be from Cisco or Microsoft or a multitude of other vendors, tools such as instant messaging (IM) & Presence and Video Conferencing deployed with customer relationship management (CRM) and document sharing solutions have meant that the Unified Communications and Collaboration landscape not only encourages people to work from anywhere, encourages them to communicate with someone halfway around the world as if you were sitting next to them but it does so without affecting the quality of work.
All of these tools have monitoring systems in place, they will help you to create and implement the controls and the processes which will ultimately enable accountability. There is no hiding place.
2. Lack of social interaction and contact with “real” people. Some people think that working from home means you are alone. Common perception is that you are in your own little bubble, you aren’t part of a team or that you don’t meet people. In response to that… You are not, you are and you do!
In an era where trading is global and around the clock, business is no longer confined by the boundaries of the office. Remote working purely means that you just don’t follow the typical 9 to 5 routine with a few beers after work. Of course, there is a place for it and almost an old romance associated with that way of life, but the reality is, if your work is going well, you’ll have more than enough contacts, you’ll have the opportunities for staff get togethers as well as interaction elsewhere and as usual you’ll rarely find time for everything you want to do.
3. Home distractions. Be mindful that not everyone will have a spare room, but as part of any policy you should do as much as you can to ensure you and your staff have a dedicated workspace at home. This, is a must. Working from the dining table or the sofa is not an option so looking at innovative ways to support them can go a long way to ensuring that they feel valued and the quality of their work does not suffer.
Work should be something we do, not somewhere we go
While taking the time to think and look through a number of the topics that were talked about at Forfusion’s last event in October, which discussed the ever growing demand for Flexible Working, I’ve been able to reflect on the the way in which I work.
Over the last 2 years I have had to adapt, but I’ve probably spoken to more people than I have ever before! It has also meant that with a young family there is now a true work/life balance (or work/life integration, as Cisco’s Alison Heath was keen to stress the difference). As our CEO, Steven Forrest quite rightly says… “Work is something you do, not somewhere you go”.