By Robert Rutherford, CEO of QuoStar
From April 2014, all employees in the UK will be given the right to request flexible working from their employer. For many businesses this is a concern, and rightly so. A large scale take-up of flexible working can change the dynamic of a workplace on multiple levels.
Without sufficient preparation, flexible working can become a headache for both management and IT. Having employees spending increasing amounts of time working at different locations and on different devices can make it very difficult to keep track of efficiency, productivity and behaviour, which is why it’s so important to get the right systems and processes in place early, to ensure the smooth conduct of business remains unaltered.
A few points to bear in mind when considering the implications of the new rules:
Think about your business objectives. What is the company trying to achieve in terms of its communications, operations and workflows? How much of this is effective and available remotely, and how much can be moved online without rocking the boat? Any systems or processes left behind may be out of bounds to some flexible workers.
Map the technology to the business. Any technology solution you choose must suit the business, not the other way around. However, all of your main IT requirements – service delivery, cloud, storage, network connectivity and security – will change as workers move off-site. For example, there’s a good chance that your cloud platforms and/or internet connectivity were designed to cope with what you had in place before – and therefore may not support flexible working in the way that you’re expecting.
It’s not business as usual. Flexible workers will spend more time working alone – and will often be able to demonstrate better productivity and quality as a result. However, they may also lack the motivation and morale that a communal working environment encourages. Simple collaboration tools, such as Lync and SharePoint can be employed to ensure everyone’s still a part of the team and gets the same overview of important information.
Infrastructure isn’t just about IT. The way in which employees communicate is unique to every office and is seldom set in stone. For remote or flexible workers, what used to be a desk catch-up might become a conference call, which could create a demand for additional conference lines and/or meeting rooms.
Review security. The threat landscape will multiply very quickly once personal devices, dual-purpose devices and multiple locations are introduced. Make sure to have an expert analyse the specific security controls that will be needed to protect against these and other threats.
Think about productivity. It’s easy to think that you can create a remote working solution on a shoe-string. However, make a point of understanding the real impact of any cost-to-value decision for the longer-term. Don’t forget that not all employees are suited to home working, how are you going to ensure that they are being productive and manage them? IT systems can help, but you need clear policies that the IT will be monitoring and enforcing. Also, don’t forget that training may be required for some people and areas.
Test it. It’s essential to test all these systems – and then test them again – to make sure that your flexible workers have access to the same tools and support as office-based workers. There is almost nothing that can’t be effectively tested ahead of time and failure to do so can have serious implications.
Depending on the nature of the business, flexible working can, and often does, provide a number of advantages in terms of both productivity and costs. However, both the IT and management landscape will change significantly, and the sooner the business understands those changes the less likely it will be to face a crisis once these new rules take effect.