Delivering flexibility for the modern workforce
Despite seemingly constant talk around workplace flexibility, successful remote working has yet to be achieved by many businesses. Whether it be the challenge of bringing together home-based workers or teams spread in disparate office locations, many UK businesses are still failing to enable secure and efficient remote working.
Yet with multiple generations now interacting in the workplace, all with different motivations and expectations, it is more vital than ever for businesses to understand how they can create an environment that caters to all, says Rufus Grig, CTO, Maintel.
Our flexible working study, for example, found that the younger generation generally prefer to work in the office as opposed to remotely – a clear contrast to baby boomers, who said they would rather work from home. In addition to personal preference, the research found that 48% of those under 35 actually feel that they are most productive when based in the office, with only 19% over 55 agreeing with this.
This highlights that clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. With many employees no longer working in a single head office location, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that not only do workers have the right tools they need to work remotely, but that the right processes and policies are embedded in the corporate culture to ensure that companies can securely accommodate this wide range of preferred working styles.
Understanding the basics
Successful remote working policies start with getting the basics right by allowing employees to effectively communicate over voice, video, messaging and email. In doing this, businesses should always keep in mind the overarching aim of flexible working – to offer workers secure and reliable access to key applications, data and tools in order to optimise employee performance, productivity, morale and retention.
Of course, there are other important benefits to establishing a safe, secure remote working policy – not least the fact that it can provide a critical boost to business continuity at times where productivity may otherwise be hampered.
The snowfall that affected so many businesses this winter is a prime example – at a time where many people find it difficult or even impossible to travel to the office, businesses that have successful flexible working policies in place (and the tools that underpin them) suffer less downtime and losses in productivity by enabling people to work from where they are, rather than having them stuck in traffic, clocking off early or, worse still, taking the day off entirely – even if they do take off an hour at lunchtime to go sledging with the kids!
Introducing flexible working
Standalone policies on remote working aren’t enough, though – in order for such policies to work, organisations must actively work to build a culture that values output, outcomes and productivity regardless of location.
While this begins with empowering workers with the tools and training required for teams to work effectively wherever they like, time together as a team needs to be specifically allocated, whether in the form of video calling, online collaboration tools or using group chat to brainstorm or collaborate.
It’s not all about giving your employees the technology they need, though – building a successful flexible working policy is about giving employees context of when it’s appropriate to use remote working tools and helping them to understanding when remote working is the right thing to do and when people should a be physically together.
Working alone, whether at home or on-site, can make it more difficult for employees to feel part of a team, and also means they can miss out on the nuances of interpersonal communication.
This is why reliable remote access to video communication needs to be a priority for businesses looking to implement flexible working policies – not only does video technology enable employees across disparate locations to feel more included in discussions, it also breaks down barriers between people by taking the full spectrum of non-verbal communication into account – things like gestures, body language and eye contact.
Driving a better interpersonal experience is key for companies looking to retain a sense of inclusion, motivation and productivity across remote workforces by reinforcing inclusion within teams.
Maintaining contact from disparate locations
While the older generation may prefer remote working due to commitments at home, our study found that 28% of all workers have trouble getting hold of colleagues or managers when working remotely. For younger workers this may also explain the preference towards office-based work; it may, however, also be down to the social aspects of office life and a desire to be publicly recognised for their hard work – an important factor when seeking advancement – or the extra support and advice available from working alongside more experienced co-workers.
Regardless of where employees are working, then, efforts need to be made within teams to ensure everyone is kept up-to-date and available for contact when needed. Presence information, for example, is an invaluable tool for people working remotely, enabling workers to see who’s available to them in real time, while allowing homeworkers to work together on documents with collaboration tools is hugely beneficial to productivity.
The security factor
Whilst there are many obstacles that businesses are yet to overcome – whether maintaining connectivity across multiple sites, equipping staff with intuitive technology they actually want to use, or training and educating teams to effectively use collaboration tools – one of the biggest issues facing businesses is that of security. What’s more, with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now in force, it’s more important than ever that defence systems are in place to protect both employees and the business.
This presents a particular challenge to organisations with remote workers, who should:
- Implement robust data access controls and authentication to ensure remote workers are who they say they are
- Ensure data leakage protection is in place so those working remotely can’t access and extract valuable company data
- Make sure remote workers’ devices are safe and secure, including deploying and managing apps with local device policies to protect the network from the threats of remote devices.
One thing is certain: change is inevitable, and the workforce will continue to evolve. Therefore, companies must adopt flexible working policies which are both futureproof and which balance the expectations of employees with the needs of the business. The could potentially mean expanding flexible working policies, training or renovating the office space, all while developing the right culture for the team.
The author of this blog is Rufus Grig, CTO, Maintel