What is flexible working in 2017?
As I write this, I’m sitting in the comfort of my own home, and I’ve just finished analysing audience insights and scheduling social media content for the next coming weeks. I’m connected to my company’s network, and not only can I see when my colleagues are ‘available’, I can also message them at the press of a button. This morning I attended a virtual meeting with my team who are currently located around the country, which I connected to from a reminder that popped-up on my computer. I’m getting notifications that the office is receiving phone calls for our service desk and I can see that they’re being promptly answered. Any calls that are for me are being forwarded to my mobile, but I also have the option of answering them on my computer. In truth, except for regular rounds of tea and coffee, the pattering of keyboards and jingling of handsets, I could be sitting at my desk right now.
The reason I feel able to work effectively from home is because I’m connected with my team. I can send them instant messages, set up video calls, and I can see their availability. I can quickly find out whether my manager is in a meeting, on the phone, or if they don’t want to be disturbed. I can also see where they are working from, whether they’re in the office, at home, or visiting a client’s site. I’m able to do this for anyone in the company, so if I need to speak to the Head of Service Desk or Business Development, I can send them a quick message or transfer a call to them. Likewise, I’ve also set my availability so that everyone in my team can see I’m working from home today, and if they need to contact me they can.
Setting up a call with one of our partners is equally straightforward, if I needed other team members on the call, they can connect to it too. In fact, conference calls and team meetings are all a click away to schedule and attend. There will be times where it’s necessary to go into the office of course, but on days like today where I’m focussing on creating content and writing, it’s nice to have the extra headspace.
The reasons for flexible working can be far more pressing and different from my own. At the time of writing, the past few weeks has seen travel disruption from planned strikes and inclement weather. The cost to the economy during these events were astronomical, not to mention the frustration and chaos this caused to thousands of commuters. For some this was unavoidable, because their presence at work was absolutely necessary. For many, I will hazard a guess that working remotely was a viable option, though it may not have been an ideal one in all cases.
Let’s be honest, there is still some resistance to the idea of flexible working. Many companies will fear that employees are less productive when not in the office. After all, it does feel more ‘proper’ going into the office; it’s the way business has always been done and it works. These companies often do not have the systems in place to enable effective remote working, and without adopting or making collaboration technology a part of their strategy, it can be a self-fulfilling problem. This is usually brought on by the difficulty to see the benefits of flexible working, especially when there is a lack of good reasons to change something that works.
Contrastingly, there are some companies that embrace flexible working wholeheartedly. They are investing less in their office space, employing a hot-desk policy, and doing away with handsets and desktop computers all together. As a result of having the systems in place to support flexible working, companies can use experts from around the country, and there is nothing stopping them from doing this on a global scale as well. This is possible because employees are increasingly conversant with mobile technology, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets. These companies are reducing infrastructure costs massively, and through virtual meetings they are saving both costs and time dramatically. They aren’t just making financial savings and using resources more effectively from flexible working, they are also finding it leads to happier employees, and this comes with its own benefits. Happier employees are inspired, they are loyal and they are more productive.
So what does flexible working mean in 2017? It’s the option of using technology to work remotely in a way that’s just as effective as being in the office (in person). Sometimes this will be out of necessity, but it could equally be down to convenience or choice. It’s a choice supported by technological investments and a company’s culture. Flexible working has mutual benefits for a business and its employees, for example, higher rates of satisfaction, optimum use of resources, and significant financial gain or prevention of loss.