Flexible working is becoming a massive part of today’s enterprise culture. However, while some companies have been quick to embrace this new way of working, others are dragging their heels.
For example, according to the TUC, the number of people working from home has only increased by 13% in the last five years, and some businesses, like Yahoo, have even tried to ban staff from remote working.
However, on 30 June the government’s flexible-working regulations will be amended, placing a requirement on businesses to consider requests from all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service, rather than only those with children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) and certain carers.
As a result, those that have so far refrained from laying the foundations for flexible working will need to act quickly to make sure they are prepared by taking a number of considerations into account.
1) Lay down the law
As a first step, businesses should set a policy for flexible working in order to establish what is possible and what the boundaries are. As a minimum, this should include an outline of the qualifying conditions and working arrangements that employees must adhere to.
For example, businesses should agree their employees’ workload, the equipment they’re permitted to use and the hours they agree to work to avoid reduced productivity and potential technical issues.
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Another priority should be setting employees’ access privileges; deciding what data they will have access to from particular devices and locations outside the organisational firewalls.
This can put a stop to confidentiality issues and ensure business security. Thought will also need to be given to the device and media used to enable remote working. For example, businesses should consider whether employees will use their own mobile device, with a personal contract; or a company device, and as such they must decide who will be responsible for paying the bills. From there, organisations will be able to establish how technology can support and in many cases improve communication and collaboration across the company.
2) Make a unanimous decision
Ensuring that the business is compliant with the change in regulations is only half the battle; to truly reap the benefits of flexible working, it’s important to ensure that workers are equipped to prosper with the right processes and technology in place.
Unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) technology can help with this; in ensuring that flexible working actually works for the business and allows employees to connect and communicate seamlessly.
Most organisations already have some elements of UC&C technology in place, whether it is phones and email or collaboration tools such as instant messaging and conferencing. However, UC should bring all of these tools together and allow them to function as one. Making good use of existing technology, and increasingly the technology that employees want to use, is central to ensuring that flexible workers remain closely connected with their colleagues.
3) Break the chains of fixed-working
As fixed office hours become a thing of the past, so too will fixed workstations, with hot-desking offering a better way for businesses to optimise the use of office space. As a result, employees will be using more portable devices such as laptops, tablets and mobiles rather than fixed-line phones and desktop PCs.
As a result, connectivity will move away from traditional fixed line networks and onto the wireless network. The more frequent use of UC&C tools, like video conferencing, will add further pressure to wireless bandwidth.
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It is not really surprising therefore that recent research found that more than half (55%) of IT directors feel that their businesses are ever more at the mercy of their wireless networks. Implementing the latest wireless management tools can help to create a better integrated, secure and reliable network infrastructure to keep flexible workers online.
4) Build a strong case with employees
As flexible working gathers momentum, businesses need to make sure that their employees are using the communications tools available to them effectively. With employees constantly exchanging information, it is also imperative that this is done in both a secure and productive manner.
Failing to educate a workforce on best practices for using UC technologies can mean that some features are underutilised; perhaps resulting in lack of productivity, or sensitive information is transmitted insecurely; perhaps resulting in a damaging data breach. In order to achieve a strong ROI on an investment in UC&C, it is important that employees understand how and when to use the full range of tools available to them.
With the pending changes in legislation promising to be one of the biggest challenges to employment law in decades, every employer will have a duty to consider all requests for flexible working.
However, turning the challenge on its head, companies who think of it as an opportunity for the business to evolve by using a range of different tools, particularly to support remote working and collaboration, could benefit everyone and dramatically improve productivity across the board.
Through careful planning and ensuring employees are armed with the right mix of tools and technology, companies can unlock the window of opportunity and reap the full rewards of flexible working.
Sourced from James Nowlan, principal consultant, Damovo UK & Ireland