The combined effect of consumerisation, technological innovation and changing employee expectations is driving a wave of change across the professional workplace. More and more businesses are now considering shifting their operations away from a conventional, office-based model, towards a flexible working environment, where employees can carry out day-to-day activities, regardless of their location.
This flexible approach to everyday working can require significant adjustment, which has in the past deterred some operations from considering it as an organisation-wide policy. Yet for businesses that decide to make the transition, there is vast potential for improving productivity and communication across the enterprise, as well as attracting and retaining employees.
The business case for flexible working is being driven by a range of current enterprise priorities. In many organisations, pressure is coming from workers across the business to use the latest connected personal devices. At the same time, economic constraints are forcing many firms to reduce their operating costs, including expensive business travel and office space.
The fact that communications can be one of an organisation’s most significant costs can also be an important commercial consideration in adopting a unified approach to collaborative technologies. An estimated 30 per cent of employees forward their fixed line to their mobile, with the result that the company pays unnecessary call charges for calls entering the business as they are diverted.
Flexible working also offers significant potential to improve employee satisfaction through an improvement in work/life balance. Specifically, it can reduce the requirement for lengthy commutes, as well as other time-consuming journeys. Global research undertaken on behalf of Vodafone Global Enterprise has highlighted that 75 per cent of businesses see clear employee demand for flexible working, with 33 per cent of them identifying greater flexibility as an important factor in determining job satisfaction.
Cost-efficient, collaborative working
Many recruiters are now realising that a location-independent working culture can open up access to a broader pool of new talent that extends beyond the commutable vicinity of a company’s head office. IDC predicts that the western European mobile worker population will reach 139m in 2016, up from 97m in 2010, presenting a sizeable opportunity for HR teams.
Using video conferencing and hosted online meetings, professionals can take part in face-to-face conferences, catch-ups and even job interviews, without the requirement to be in the same room. Virtual collaboration tools such as multi-functional video conferencing also support and speed up the interview process, enabling key aspects of the selection process, including candidate presentations, to be incorporated.
Once the new recruit is on board, the adoption of remote collaboration ensures that the employer retains all the controls they need to cost-effectively manage the business, at the same time enabling the employee to work in the way that suits them best.
The latest collaboration tools can also facilitate other essential business activities, including remote training alternatives that replicate all the key aspects of the physical training room, such as testing trainee involvement and learning, but without all the costs associated with taking staff away from their day jobs for extended periods.
The most up-to-date web-conferencing solutions enable the trainer to involve subject experts, use PowerPoint, video and other presentation materials, and check participants’ understanding through the use of interactive tools such as polling.
Integrated communications strategy
As with any variation in working practice, a move to a more flexible, dynamic working culture will inevitably present challenges. Some workers will be sceptical and resistant to change, making support and training essential. Frustrations can also arise if the communications infrastructure implemented is fragmented, forcing the user to move from one device to another.
For these reasons, a successful transition to enterprise-wide anytime, anywhere, collaborative working should be supported by a robust unified communications strategy. Crucially, it should have a simple underlying infrastructure to consolidate and manage fixed, mobile and desktop services as a single managed service, with pricing reporting and support delivered according to the individual needs of the company, staff and team.
This integrated approach essentially combines fixed desktops and mobile environments and enables them to communicate with each other, bringing together all points of contact, including phone, email, conferencing and instant messages, via any device. As a result, employees are always able to pick up their messages, improving responsiveness, and the speed with which business decisions are made and executed.
When successfully deployed, flexible working practices can help to improve collaboration across different business functions, offices, and client communications, removing departmental siloes and communication blocks that may have previously slowed decision-making processes.
For a multi-national company, achieving this will invariably require the flexibility to take account of different cultural responses to dynamic working. In rolling out the approach, each country must be able to implement the solution in a way which suits the local culture, but retains a level of global consistency to ensure the business, its staff and its customers achieve maximum benefit.
Andy McFarlane is head of marketing at Vodafone Global Enterprise