The secret behind successful flexi-working? Culture
By Sally Barringer, HR Manager at Unify
July 4 2016 - For most of the population, the office is synonymous with work. Just think of how many roles and tasks fit under the umbrella of the term "office work." Whether it is Law, Sales, Architecture or any other tens of thousands of roles, the easiest way to define work, until recently, was by its location. Things are rapidly changing though and the definition of "work" is shifting. These days, the office is wherever you are.
How did this happen? Well, it is hard to look past technology. Recent strides have seen innovation proliferate, with the workspace in particular feeling the benefits. This has made flexi-working an actual possibility for workers across disparate fields and companies no matter the size. Pair this with the fact that Unify's recent Way We Work Study revealed that 51% of British workers find the office unproductive, and it is clear that things have altered. In other words, technology is reshaping the way we perceive work and the places we do it in.
That is not to say we have arrived in the future. The way work might be changing, but with all such shifts, it is a complex process requiring time and care. Unfortunately though, not all organisations do this. In the flexi-work gold rush, many are setting the policies in place, but forget to consider the reality of implementation. If you implement an "anywhere working" strategy without doing the groundwork, its effect can be the opposite of what you desire. Rather than empowering staff, it can negatively impact the work-life balance of the staff and their roles. Remember, this is the worst-case scenario, so do not let it put you off.
When done well, flexi-working can be a game changer and productivity enhancer. The question is, how do you adopt flexi-working in a way that enhances productivity?
Do not let culture take the plunge
Think about it like this - would you trust someone to run a marathon that has not moved above a walk for the past decade?
The same is true for flexi-working. Mastering the practice requires time, dedication and planning, so it seems crazy that many managers assume people can just pick up the habit. It may all begin with a vision, but you cannot simply announce that every employee will now be an "anywhere worker". Even though 52% of workers now operate in virtual teams, their success depends on planning and effort, not well-wishes.
The truth is that for every worker who innately "gets" flexi-working and excels from the start, there will be some who do not. This is where managers step in. The first phase should be a considered induction to this way of work. Weightlifters do not start by deadlifting two hundred pounds; they begin with small weights and build up their strength from there. In this case, management should advise employees to work away from the office in short stints; whether this is one afternoon a week or a full day every month, it is all about letting people feel their own way into this type of work.
Software seems to be the hardest thing
After making headway with culture, the next step is getting the right software on your side. 57% of workers say they already use "on-demand tools" (cloud or internet-based) for teamwork or collaboration, and I cannot stress enough just how important it is to get this step right. Software is at the heart of any flexible workplace. Culture is what brings everything together, but software is the foundation it is built on. This makes it all the more important that any decisions about which software to choose are carefully considered. If the staff is using software that is not very intuitive and responsive, it can hamper their work, both from a productivity and morale standpoint.
When it comes to choosing software, start with the essentials. For example, collaboration must be at the core of your chosen platform, not just an afterthought. A common woe when flexi-working is something simple: collaborative editing. Almost every industry and role now require it, but if you have two people editing a local file, when 'v. 6' gets sent back to the creator, the changes could contradict each other or miss aspects of the 'v.12.3.4567' edition it has evolved into. This is not to mention the time it would take to go through all the edits and collate them into one coherent piece. The alternative? Having a real-time, easy-access document editor.
The software should also be responsive and simple to use. The success of platforms like Google and Facebook has made people want a streamlined and intuitive user interface, so without it, individuals will struggle to embrace the software.
The technology should also be future-proofed. Make sure the software is regularly updated and ideally cloud-based - making it likely to be more compatible with an array of operating systems and mobile apps, especially the one most used by your staff. This can all make sure productivity is not affected either in the early days of flex-work or further down the line.
As with any technology, for it to be effective, it must be people-centric. As your staff are the people who will be using it every day, it is crucial you consult them and see how they feel about the software. Thankfully, this boils down to something simple: communication. Talk to vendors and set up a range of trials. Collect feedback from employees and make your choice based on it. By doing this, you will hit two birds with one stone: getting the best software for your business, and empowering your employees through flexi-working from day one.
Getting handy with the hardware
I have already emphasised how key culture and software are, but let's now turn our attention to hardware, something often overlooked. Employees should be provided with computers. If this is a standard in a normal office, flexi-working should not be any different.
This does not apply just to PCs and Laptops. Mobile is already the dominant device in our personal lives, and this is true in the business world too. Just think of how much work is done when on the move. Whether you choose to subsidise data bills or purchase devices for staff, they are essential items in a flexi-worker's toolbox.
Finally, before hardware came to be synonymous with technology, the key object in an office was furniture. In many instances, it still is. While it might not like a priority, it is an important health consideration for employees. While in an office, ergonomic chairs and desks are the standard, it is likely this is not the case in people's homes. Of course, whilst a business cannot be expected to purchase furniture for staff, the business should ensure that a DSE assessment is carried out to assess that staff have a safe environment in which to work, enabling the business to support and advise or even subsidise appropriate furniture where necessary.
Lead the way
The above pointers lay the groundwork for a healthy flexi-working culture, but there is one final piece of the puzzle: you.
To truly transform the workplace, it requires everyone's complete involvement. That includes the top level. It should be something lived by the entire management team, not just those underneath them in the hierarchy. A good way to do this is to set a company-wide example and share your experiences as you yourself adopt flexi-working and so honestly, warts and all. This encourages a whole culture of sharing and humanises the process. The added bonus in all this? It will bring you even closer to your employees.
Flexi-working can transform a company. From boosting productivity to doing wonders for morale, this new way of working has a whole range of benefits. But while many boast that they now offer flexi-working, it can easily turn from blessing to burden if not implemented with due consideration. The bottom line, do not be afraid of flexi-working, just ensure that this, like all big changes in a company, this is communicated and supported throughout the change process. After all, adopting flexi-working now can ensure you company thrives in the future.