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Working for your Workers

by Sally Barringer, HR Manager at Unify

September 1 2016 - Just like train delays or rainy days, some things seem to never change. For years, the same could have been said for work. While there have always been occupations at the forefront of change and altering year-on-year, the vast majority of roles remained consistent, rarely changing.

Don't believe me? Well, consider this: in the UK, one of the most common trends for surnames was people's jobs. Whether it was Smith (normally a blacksmith), Carter (someone who transported goods) or Archer (an... archer), people's occupations were so intrinsic to who they were they became synonymous with how you defined the individual. Nowadays? This is far from the case.

According to Unify's The Way We Work Study, over 65% of knowledge workers - those who "think" for a living - believe their roles won't be the same in five years. Even more surprising though is that 35% of knowledge workers don't believe their position will exist at all in that timeframe.

This has to be seen as an opportunity for businesses. While there is a potential for companies to panic about the changing nature of work and employees, facing it head on can create a flexible company able to thrive in tumultuous times. For this to happen, it requires you to analyse what workers really want, creating a company that caters to them without sacrificing productivity.

Reality? It's getting virtual

Not too long ago, companies and offices were symbiotic. One couldn't survive without the other. The office was where people did work, day-in, day-out, trudging in from miles around to do their jobs. Decisions and fortunes were made within four walls. Now? This seems antiquated.

The proof is out there. According to The Way We Work Study, 52% of knowledge workers already operate in virtual teams. In other words, more than half of workers already do their jobs away from a central office. This has been one of the big shifts of the modern world: you can do your work no matter where you are. For some people, working in this way actually delivers better results too, as the same study revealed 42% believe virtual teams can be more effective than face-to-face ones.

So, virtual working is both widespread and effective, but how do you actually go about implementing it? While this style of working can deliver huge benefits, if it is managed poorly it can quickly become a drain on a company. This is where technology comes in. To succeed, you need a system that is reliable and powerful, particularly one that can deal with a range of communication methods. When you're looking at different platforms, make sure it can deal with video conferencing, voice and instant messaging at the very least. The success of virtual working lies in the fact that it gives power to people to do their jobs the way they want. This spirit should run through the technology they use. Ensure it operates seamlessly and you will reap the benefits of more engaged staff.

Featuring flexibility

To put it simply: our relationship to work has changed. Decades ago, it was not just an occupation that was your life, it was commonly the company too. The idea of switching roles, businesses or industries was, to many people, an alien concept. This shift can be viewed as a result of more focus on personal fulfilment, rather than concentrating only on outside forces. In many senses, people now look towards fitting work around their lives, not the other way round.

This trend has shown itself in a number of ways, with one of the most prominent being the desire of people to do more contract work. In The Way We Work Study, it was revealed that 53% of people would consider changing to freelancing over regular employment if it was offered. Just let that sink in. Over half of the people in your company would become contractors if the option was available, and feasible, to them. While this could be looked at as a negative, it should instead be seen as a great opportunity. If you company can begin offering people more flexible times or freelancing roles, you will have a greater chance of not only holding onto your best and brightest employees, but also attracting more. If you shift your priorities with those of people, you can benefit hugely.

Catching the cloud

While it is not viewed in the same way it was a few years ago, mentioning "the cloud" will still get you a glassy stare from swathes of the population. The fact is though that despite some confusion over the term, large numbers of people are using cloud-based technology daily. Whether they realise it or not, the cloud has become central to how people live their lives. Just think of how many photos and documents people have stored remotely...

This comfort with the cloud has led to it being adopted overwhelmingly in the office. In fact, in Unify's Way We Work Study, it was discovered that 57% of respondents use "on-demand tools" (cloud or internet based) for teamwork or collaboration. What this displays is that the cloud is now an integral aspect of people's lives. In other words, individuals are already using the technology, so you best make sure your business does too.

It is vital to note one thing though: pick your cloud technology carefully. In order for your company's data to be safe and secure, your employees should only use your selected tech. The issue is though that if it does not work, individuals will become irritated, leading them to use the platform they are more familiar with, possibly endangering the business. With this in mind, make sure that you staff are involved in the selection of the technology - after all, they will be the ones using it day-in, day-out.

Out of office?

There is little doubt that the above points towards one thing: the slow death of the office. In fact, in the The Way We Work Study, it was discovered that 69% of people think the office as a physical workplace is less important than in the past. This has the potential to be misleading. While people are becoming less and less enamoured with having to be ever present in the office, there is still a need for it in the modern world.

In the same research, it was revealed that only 7% of people say they'd like to spend between 75% and 100% of their time away from the office. What this marks is quite clear: the office is moving away from being the centre of the working world, but it still plays a vital role in how people view their jobs. Habits might be changing, but it is an evolution, not a revolution. We still desire contact with other people and there will always be a place for face-to-face meetings. What this means for your business though is the ability to scale down your office. If you create an environment people want to be in once or twice a week, you can save money on renting a larger location. The key though is to make it as people-centric as possible; listen to what individuals want to get out of the office and gear it towards that.

The world of work has changed and this is unlikely to stop. In this instance, a business has two choices: adapt or lose their edge over the competition. Many organisations will firmly dig their heels in and keep treating employees in the same way. While this might not cause difficulties immediately, over the next few years it will get harder and harder to attract the best candidates and keep them at the company. If, on the other hand, you begin listening to what employees want and altering your company to appeal to them, you will reap huge benefits. Not only will people be more likely to come and work for you, productivity and performance will rise. If you work for people, they will want to work for you.



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