IT is the lynchpin for success in achieving flexible working benefits says Tim Stone, VP, Marketing, EMEA for video conferencing provider Polycom.
On 30 June 2014 the right to request flexible working was extended to all UK employees. Overnight businesses went from needing to provide flexibility for a select few to potentially hundreds of thousands of staff.
The popularity of flexible working both for employees and employers has seen four out of five requests granted, according to pensions minister Steve Webb. Business leaders should consider accommodating as many requests as is practical given that flexible working is proven to reduce real estate costs and salary bills. It is also a key factor in employee recruitment and retention across the whole age range of the working population. In this day and age, it is no surprise that a quarter of office workers would rather have a flexible working package than a pay rise, according to a 2013 Samsung survey.
But how can business leaders incorporate this into their future plans? The determining success factor is whether the C-Suite can push these plans beyond the boardroom and into the everyday processes of each business group. Each department has a different set of requirements and challenges, so having the right technology is the key. IT can be the centralised hub to consult both the board and business groups on the technology their organisation—and people—need to be successful.
Everyone from finance to facilities needs to be more collaborative to support flexible working practices that contribute to the overall growth and productivity of the business. The traditional boundaries of departments and hierarchy are now blurring in the modern enterprise, with cross-functional projects and processes becoming the norm. IT becomes the lynchpin to success, bridging the gap between the board and business group leaders while planning for and deploying solutions that connect employees, improve productivity and foster innovation.
Technology will facilitate the new wave of flexible working, but it must be integrated into business processes for it to be a help rather than a hindrance. It’s critical that any solutions are integrated and interoperable with the process specific solutions across the full range of business functions to avoid employees finding their own workarounds to compatibility issues.
For employees to be effective when working flexibly the entire IT ecosystem needs to work seamlessly regardless of the physical location of the person. Investing in communication and collaboration technologies which facilitate remote working will be key to maintaining productivity in the modern, flexible enterprise. And the collaboration of the C-Suite will be vital to achieving this. Flexibility needs to extend beyond location into working practices and business leaders must be prepared to be flexible and incorporate the needs of other business functions into their IT planning.
“IT innovations play an increasingly critical role in the ways we interact and collaborate with each other. The penetration of IT in the business world has improved the way that businesses are conducted and the power now lies in the IT leaders’ hands to drive the innovation further throughout the organisation”, says Dr Carsten Sørensen, Reader (Associate Professor) in Digital Innovation at The London School of Economics.
From HR’s perspective, the increasing number of flexible working requests means that a formalised process for dealing with these, as well as a clear company policy, is essential.
For the first time ever, the workforce spans five generations. The average enterprise has to incorporate a diverse set of needs; millennials want to work differently to baby boomers. Flexible working reflects this, as it is about adapting work to the individual, not the other way round. This employee-centric approach is becoming the norm, and the expectation of workers so must be considered by management.
To satisfy everyone, the right technology will be vital. For its part, HR will need to consider guidelines and policies around the use and care of this technology. Employees will need a clear set of instructions as to how to conduct their own workspace health and safety check in their home office. Rules around accessing and storing files and services remotely will need to be drafted in conjunction with the IT department. In fact, HR will need to work more closely than ever with IT to implement infrastructure and solutions to support flexible working policies.
To be competitive in today’s world, the modern workforce needs to be truly flexible, which means addressing both time and location. It can mean working from home or remotely, but it also means having a variety of environments onsite to serve different purposes.
Breakout rooms, open plan workspaces, work pods and traditional meetings rooms are all examples that facilities management must consider when designing the best possible collaborative workspaces.
Flexibility can be achieved through technology. Remote working requires access to files and programmes from anywhere, the modern enterprise needs to consider the cloud whether private or public, proprietary or ‘as-a-Service’. Video conferencing can allow your workforce to reduce their travel time and improve their productivity. One facilities manager can service several sites through telepresence negating the need to have a manager for each location.
The proliferation of new technologies means that there is a danger of fragmentation. Unified communications is a key consideration for facilities, as it allows them to ‘plug’ their physical locations into a wider network of locations, including virtual meeting rooms. These flexible workplaces have higher usage rates through unified communications as a consistent interface simplifies it for the user.
In order for facilities management to create a flexible workplace, it requires close collaboration with the IT function to implement the technology solutions and integrate them into the wider infrastructure. This collaboration will reduce the risk of shadow IT projects that sit in silos.
Facilities management will also need to align with HR to draft policies for the usage of these flexible workspaces. Lastly, they will need to liaise with Finance to make budget available for these strategic projects.
Marketing, sales & customer services
In the past sales and marketing departments often had to be visible at their desks from nine till five. This was partially due to the need to be on an internal network to access business critical systems including CRM tools, as well as the need to be next to a desk phone connected to an on premise PBX system. The advent of cloud-based solutions and Voice over IP (VoIP) means that your sales team can be more flexible in terms of location, as they can access these systems from anywhere.
In an increasingly digital world, marketing and sales use IT solutions to complete almost every business process. CRM tools, marketing automation, web platforms and production, reporting and tracking are all now digitised, partially due to the improved productivity but also because it is easier and more accurate to extract and analyse data from digital sources in order to measure ROI and improve performance. If you invest in these solutions ‘as a service’ your employees can access them from anywhere. This provides the obvious benefit in that the sales team do not need to return to the office between meetings, but it also allows you to improve your external communications.
If key customer contacts can access the full spectrum of communications tools remotely, for example through UC as a Service, then they move beyond email and phone calls. Modern consumers expect to be able to communicate with businesses in a variety of ways including instant chat functions which are built into your corporate website, video communications and social media. All of these solutions and systems need to be interoperable and seamless, which means that marketing, sales and customer services need to work closely with IT to implement and integrate them into their processes.
The CIO and his team’s digital skills have never been more in demand, but it’s no longer just about adjusting equipment. IT needs to be a trusted advisor on the right solution for each business function, and help them to integrate the right technology to facilitate flexible working for their team. IT becomes a consultative function, the IT team will have less need to be physically present and can also take advantage of flexible working, including working remotely.
Flexible working often comes hand-in-hand with BYOD. It’s important that IT have a strategy in place to maintain services and security across a range of devices and operating systems. In the modern enterprise employees will often use their personal devices for work even without an official BYOD policy, which can cause security and accountability issues. It is worth investing the time and resources in collaborating with the appropriate business leaders to ensure policies, guidelines and provisions are in place to support your employees. Investing in the right technology will drive growth and productivity even with staff working flexibly, research conducted by Redshift shows that employees equipped with video conferencing are up to 39% more productive when working remotely.
Whatever the needs of your business, and whichever technologies you choose to implement, the CIO will need to retain a strategic overview of all of these new solutions. Without a centralised function monitoring the interoperability, simplicity of use and adoption rates of new technologies, an influx of shadow IT is a danger for any organisation. The IT function as a whole will need to get out of the back office and into the boardroom in order to understand the requirements and challenges of each business function so that they can be effective advisors to the business from the C-Suite down.
It is clear that a digital economy calls for a digital enterprise, and this means the integration of IT across all functions. IT must not only get out of the back office and into the boardroom, it must also think of itself and its advice as indispensable when it comes to making strategic infrastructure decisions.
Main image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/the_warfield/
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