By Marcus Leach

It has been another busy year in the world of business, complete with the ups and downs we have come to expect, but nevertheless a year that ends with seeds of positivity hoping to flourish in the new year.

And so, as another action-packed year comes to an end, we take a look ahead to 2013. In this new series, 2013 Trends: What can we expect, Fresh Business Thinking examines different industry sectors, and what can be expected from each.

Here Norma Pearce, Human Resources Director Europe and Africa, Plantronics, gives an insight in to how employers will work in the coming year.

Next year has the potential to see some major changes in the way we work, Pearce said. Driven by the evolution of a range of technologies — from wireless broadband and tablets, to smartphones and headsets — flexible working has become not only practical for organisations, but also desirable.

For some companies, 2013 will be the year they fully embrace flexible working. This will, for the first time, go beyond simply allowing employees to work from home once a month, or putting in place a flexi-time policy. We believe that some companies will create a complete culture of flexible working.

Employees will be able to work when they want and where they want, completely removing any requirement for them to come into the office. In 2013 we expect to see some forward thinking businesses even abandon the idea of regulated holiday entitlements. Instead, employees will be able to take time off when they need to and as they like, with the employer trusting them to ensure that their work gets done in a responsible manner.

Flexible working will, therefore, stop being a matter of employee relations and start being an element of business transformation. It will no longer be seen as a ‘sweetener’ for employees to add to their benefits packages, but rather an enabler for creativity and business development.

By freeing employees and giving them the choice over how they approach their work duties, businesses will enjoy a wide range of productivity benefits. Flexible working has the power to increase efficiency and effectiveness, improve staff attraction and retention, reduce attrition, reduce absenteeism, and create a more satisfied workforce. These are all important qualities for businesses facing a prolonged period of economic uncertainty.

In terms of the physical office space, the increase in flexible working will have some big repercussions. In 2013, we predict that more and more offices will begin to go virtual. Real estate costs a great deal of money, and when you add on to that the overheads of heating, managing phone lines and IT infrastructure and maintaining the general office environment, the traditional workspace becomes a significant strain on budgets. With flexible working you can get rid of the office all together, or at the very least significantly reduce your bricks and mortar footprint.

At Plantronics UK headquarters in Bristol, we slimmed down from three buildings to one giving us a ‘smart’ office space in which to meet a number of critical business/people requirements, namely giving employees a space for face-to-face collaboration and communication. This move delivered considerable savings and helped us provide our employees with a vastly improved work-life balance. We believe that the current economic difficulties will be a driver in the wider uptake of such virtual offices over the next year, a move that will prove highly beneficial for employers and employees alike.

And it is not just the office that will change. In 2013, the tools we use to work on will increasingly be bought by the employee at their own discretion. Just as once company cars were par for the course, but fell by the wayside as management boards struggled to justify the costs, so too in the near future employees will find it incredulous that businesses once paid for laptops, phones and headsets.

The Bring Your Own Device culture is already emerging, but in 2013 more companies will put in place security measures that will allow them to free their employees to use whatever device they wish. This will be another part of the virtual office and another driver for both reduced OPEX and increased employee satisfaction.

Over the next 12 months, we will see nothing less than a flexible working revolution. Over the longer term this revolution will completely change our employment cultures, giving more responsibility to employees and making them feel much more in control of their working lives.

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