By Paul Bamforth, Projectplace’s UK Country Manager

Have you heard? As of June this year, employees in the UK with over 26 week’s service are eligible to request flexible working hours. This legislation, which previously only applied to working parents, now allows more employees to work weekends, evenings, or even set up their office from home. But what does this change mean for businesses, and is your technology up to scratch to support this new legislation?

In recent years there has been an increase in flexible working, driven by advances in modern technology and the rise of laptops, smartphones and tablets that have transformed the way we work. In fact new research from the Office for National Statistics has found that in the first three months of 2014, 4.2 million staff across the country worked from home, equating to 13.9% of the workforce. As employers brace themselves for an influx of flexible working requests, what can they do to ensure staff productivity and motivation don’t wane as a result?

Evaluate your technology

The answer might be obvious to some, but it’s all about equipping employees with the right tools in order for them to do their job effectively wherever they are in order to avoid frustrations and maintain productivity. It is really time to implement the cloud in your business, or roll it out across the whole office. As flexible working increases in popularity so will the need for technology solutions, such as cloud computing, which can enable staff to work remotely.

Businesses need to start thinking about implementing changes to their IT infrastructure and consider the types of solutions their staff require regular access to. A good place to start would be to conduct an audit of all the software programmes the business currently uses. The next step is to evaluate how many of these solutions can still be used by staff remotely. It may be that you need to find cloud alternatives for some of the office-based software to make it easier for staff to access the programmes they use on a daily basis.

It is not just about the software though as employees will still need a device to access their work remotely. If your business is predominantly desktop PC based, equipping everyone with state-of-the-art laptops would be too expensive. Instead you may want to consider giving employees the freedom to use their own laptop, tablet and smartphone which they may well find more convenient and easier to use to get the job done quickly.

There is so much to take advantage of: CRM, accounting, project management and document sharing can all be delivered through the cloud, and made accessible from practically any device. Depending on the solution, it is possible there will be an Android, iOS, Windows or Mac app alternative, but this is something to bear in mind when rolling out a flexible working initiative.

Take security measures

To date, security has been one of the biggest barriers to cloud adoption. There will always be some element of risk associated with implementing any technology online, but there are simple measures that any business can take in order to minimise the risk. Recommending that your employees change passwords, choosing uncommon and hard to guess combinations and selecting a different password for each website can ensure employees safeguard their information.

Some cloud tools also implement stringent security guidelines, and can be accredited for their security protection. Before employing a whole office cloud solution, it is best to check that your office security is up to scratch and everybody understand their role in keeping data safe. It is more than just securing your laptop at night, but also about changing passwords and not disclosing security information to anyone who doesn’t need to know.

You can also research the security levels of the tools you want to implement too – does the CRM database offer encryption for mobile users? Does the collaboration platform give you the confidence that your confidential information will not be freely available to hackers? Investigating the tools makes sure both your business and your remote employees are kept safe throughout their working day – regardless of location.

Create the ‘virtual office’

So what’s the big fuss about? Office dynamics will inevitably change as your employees locations do, creating a disparate working force. This can provide a challenge when trying to coordinate projects that involve multiple team members all based in different locations. But this doesn’t need to impact on the community feel and inclusivity often resigned to a physical office. The key is to tap into the cloud to create a sense of ‘one team’ that will not rely on each team member being in the same room.

Online cloud collaboration tools, for example, have come a long way in the last few years, integrating messaging and conversations into the software, allowing teams across different offices, time zones and geographies to collaborate seamlessly – regardless of their whereabouts. It’s easier to communicate and stay up to date with priorities, without the fear that something important will be missed as you are not physically in the same room to keep tabs on progress.

These tools can help businesses establish ‘virtual offices’ online, creating an online community that helps individuals feel part of the team and see the bigger picture. Transparency of all elements of a project can help encourage individuals and provide them with the motivation they need to complete their elements.

Although it may seem daunting, the flexible working legislation previously applied to working parents, so, this isn’t something completely new, and many businesses across the UK have had to support flexible working routines for several years already. Today, many employees have to travel for miles to get to the office, constantly combat with obstacles such as tube strikes, traffic jams and adverse weather conditions, many of which can cause delays which inevitable spill over into the working day. Individuals might find that they work better in the mornings, or in the early evening, and these flexible working laws can actually help aid productivity.

With today’s technology in the cloud, it shouldn’t matter where the employee is physically. Staff can enjoy lie-in and work from home without it having an impact on the quality of work delivered or on the timeframe. In today’s fast-paced world, where there is an expectation for almost instant action, flexible working does not have to hinder an organisation’s ability to react quickly, as long as staff are well-equipped.

With the influx of employees now looking for a more flexible alternative to the regular 9-5, there is a greater demand for technology which can support a rise in external workers. Businesses can easily empower employees to work from anywhere, they just need to deploy cloud computing tools that will support them and make the transition to this new style of working seamless. So, will you be taking advantage of the Flexible Working legislation, and if you do – is your office ready to support you?