By Andy Nolan, VP UK, Ireland and Northern Europe, Lifesize
The flexible working legislation, brought in one year ago today, states that any employee who has worked at a company for six months plus, has the opportunity to work flexibly. But have businesses been able to fully embrace it? What are the benefits and what is holding many companies back?
Consulting firm Accenture conducted a survey of its employees and found that 80 per cent of respondents said their flexible work schedules made them more likely to stay with the company. If this is an indication of the kind of staff loyalty that flexibility fosters, it’s certainly an issue to be prioritised at the board level.
Ultimately, providing a ‘connected experience’ between the worker and the office is essential — organisations are looking for the same from their employees (productivity and reliability), regardless of their location. This can go beyond simply working from home to extend to collaboration and communication across different time zones and global operations too. And for this reason, missing out on the collaborative opportunities technology can bring is missing a trick.
Businesses don’t function in a silo and staff must be able to collaborate with colleagues across all devices and in any location with ease. And while email and instant messaging are both great ways to quickly issue assignments, touch base with workers and receive feedback, they lack the personal touch that effective communication requires.
By introducing methods of communication such as video, organisations are gradually enabling more complex dialogue to happen, eliminating cases of misinterpretation that can occur otherwise. Creating a community across dispersed teams and individuals can be tricky and trust and empathy with staff is much easier to build when an email signature or a voice on the other end of the phone are linked to a face. Now that video tools are available on PCs, tablets and smartphones — encouraging employees to work from home doesn’t have to come at the cost of open communication. For those who have recognised the importance of these tools, moving forward and accommodating both business and employee in tandem is becoming much easier.
However, the factors currently standing in the way of this legislatory progression and success across the board are technical and cultural. Many businesses either fail to understand the value of technology in connecting the office and the home by opening up communication channels or do not present a willingness to support flexibility.
In fact many employees have historically stated that lack of adequate technology is a reason for them not to adapt to a flexible working regime. An O2 Business study in January stated that just 23 per cent of employees were benefiting from the new regulations. A lack of trust and the absence of a business culture that would allow for such policies were noted as barriers, with a fifth citing that the technology to fulfil their needs wasn’t in place.
Companies still house stigmas around home working and productivity — giving over to the premise that an employee who is in the office must be working because they are visible. If managers are concerned, establishing guidelines and rules from the outset is essential. These should involve principles around clocking in and out, attending meetings and submitting work.
By setting a precedent, employees will be more inclined to work independently and proactively. Acting to counter the ‘slacking off’ assumptions that may exist will inevitably play a role in encouraging professional behaviour and in addition these rules will make employees more accountable for their time. This will create a structure in which managers can monitor performance and ensure tasks are performed in a timely manner.
Overall, with a delicate balance of the right technology with the correct management teams can improve work/life balance, employees will appreciate their employer’s efforts more and become happier in the working environment. Managers can continue business as usual and ultimately productivity will increase. Gone are the days of the 9-5 working week, with the traditional ‘working hours’ now out-of-date. Accommodating the changing needs and expectations of an evolving workforce means a tighter focus on the culture of the organisation and how it enables its staff to communicate, regardless of location.