By Andy Nolan, UK Director, Lifesize

According to the recent report from The Office of National Statistics, one in seven of us now works from home, and this number is certain to rise as the new rules make it easier for employees to work flexibly.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is hoping for a change in culture within British workplaces. A spokesman from the organisation said, “family friendly policies and economic growth can go hand in hand.” It believes this change in culture around flexible working could really help employers boost efficiency and profits.

At the moment, the technology exists to support this flexible working change, but the culture change and resistance to it are certainly holding this back. With the new legislation coming in to place, it’s fundamental that businesses shift their ideologies so they can reap the benefits in terms of retaining staff and increasing productivity.

What do the rules mean and what should companies do?

The new rules mean that any employee who has worked at a company for six months plus, has the opportunity to work flexibly.

With the number of home workers skyrocketing, and more and more employees set to take advantage of the new rules, it’s critical that organisations are geared up for the ‘office of the future,’ and can manage their remote workforce effectively.

Providing a ‘connected experience’ between the worker and the office is essential — as you’re looking for the same from your employees (productivity and reliability), regardless of their location.

This can be achieved by focusing on the outcome of an employee’s daily work role rather than the tradition “if they are sitting in the office they must be working".

How can this be done?

First steps involve ensuring your processes are geared up for the change — such as providing a good level of connectivity and broadband back to the office. So ensure that employees’ broadband is to a good level (recommend a minimum of 3Mb down and 1Mb) and that your IT services are ready and secured for remote access by VPN. This is something you should do for good business continuity planning anyway, not just for flexible working. Especially with the London tube strikes!

Company culture

On the company culture side, it’s important that basic standards are maintained. Dress code for home working should be the same as the office, if you are dressed for work you are ready for work. Employees must designate an area of the home that is a work area — no children or pets allowed, and keep the area free from clutter— if you do have engagements with clients/customers you should aim to recreate the same experience as the office — no photos of family or that dodgy poster of Kylie Minogue in the background.

Managing accountability

If managers are worried that productivity will be compromised they should establish guidelines and rules, from the outset. These should involve principles around clocking in and out, attending meetings and submitting work. By doing this, employees will be more inclined to overdo it initially and work more proactively and professionally to counter the potential slacking off suspicions that may exist. This will also make employees more accountable for their time and allow managers to monitor performance to ensure tasks are performed in a timely manner.

Recognising roles

Bearing in mind that both parties need to be on board to make flexible working successful, setting rules will also put onus on the actions of all parties to recognise levels of responsibility and trust when employees are working outside of the office walls. As flexible working will soon become normal, it’s important not to underestimate the key role the employee and employer has in making this work. The legislation is a bit 'Big Brother' but the principle and intention is sound.

The connected experience

It doesn’t matter whether you are 15 feet apart or 200 miles away; it’s just the means of communication that have changed. Email and instant messaging are both great ways to quickly issue assignments, touch base with workers and receive feedback, but they lack the personal touch that effective communication requires. Video conferencing allows more complex dialogue to happen, avoiding cases of misinterpretation that can occur with other means of communication. By doing this employers can also prioritise morale. Creating a community across hundreds of miles can be tricky. Trust and empathy with a community is much easier to foster when an email signature or a voice on the other end of the phone are linked to a face.