8 fail-safe ways to make flexible working work for your workforce

Did you know? 70% of UK office workers “get more done” if they work flexibly

This article is brought to you in partnership with Microsoft

If you’ve read the Microsoft and London Loves Business e-guide, “BUSINESS ANYWHERE - The ultimate guide to flexible working”, you’ll know that flexible working really works for organisations across the UK. In fact, working flexibly is brilliant, it makes people more productive, gives them better control over their lives and brings better results for the organisation.

After all, 14.1 million people in Britain want flexibility in their working hours or location and about 70% of UK office workers “get more done” if they work flexibly.

So, now we know the benefits of flexible working, how do we truly embrace it and what do we need to make it work?  Take a look at the following eight points to get flexible working, working, for your business.

1. Choose productivity over presenteeism: Measure people by output

What does this really mean?  Well, rather than measuring staff by how long they sit in the office for or how many emails they send in an hour, measure them by their output.  What are they able to achieve in a day in terms of meeting business objectives and driving the business forwards?  Do they really need to be seen to be able to perform?  Microsoft’s chief envisioning officer Dave Coplin lives in Banbury, a two-hour commute away from London. He says his performance at his job is “measured by output” and not by the number of forms he’s filled in or emails he’s sent – this philosophy is crucial to making flexible working work.

 “If I’m going into London, I go there to network, meet people in the office, or see clients, not to sit in front of my computer. For the rest of the week, I would choose the most effective location to get my work done,” he says.

He says, “At Microsoft, we’re measured by the output and not by the hours we work. Microsoft doesn’t really care about where I’m working from, it trusts me as a professional to make those decisions in the best interests of both me and the organisation. It’s the cultural things about measuring the output of work rather than the process of work that matter the most.”

2. Trust

To ensure flexible working works for your organisation, employers need to trust their employees.

Take Maxus, the WPP media agency, for example. In December it introduced an agile working policy for all UK staff – they no longer have to be in the office 9-5, provided their teams and managers are achieving their targets.

Maxus UK MD Anna Hickey told us, “The only way for flexible working to succeed is for employers to have trust in their people. They must trust that staff will manage their time, deliver the work that needs to be done, be available when needed either in person or over phone/video conference, and forego the “presenteeism” that was previously used as evidence of productivity.”

3. Maintain a strong sense of unity within the team

Boosting productivity? Check. Job satisfaction? Check. Saving money? Check. The benefits of flexible working go on.

Coplin describes flexible working as a “positive, conscious choice about how workers can use their time most productively”.

A fail-safe way of making flexible working work for the organisation is ensuring the team of workers have a strong sense of unity.

In his book Business Reimagined, Coplin talked about IPSOS MORI research which found that “individuals working away from the office feel under pressure to overcompensate for their absence”.

To ensure their colleagues don’t perceive them negatively, nearly half (47%) make a conscious attempt to be extra visible by sending more emails and making more phone calls.

This is why it’s important to communicate effectively so that all team members are in touch anytime, anywhere.

To bring your team together, introduce tools like Yammer that help employees collaborate better while working on the go. Built around open communication, the tool helps all employees stay on the same page and have access to all conversations, files, and data. Click here to know more.

4. Right tools for flexible working

A computer, good internet connection, and a phone with access to data – these are the basic infrastructure in the world of flexible working.

But the “real magic” for flexible working comes with tools that disconnect “the location and the time of work”, according to Microsoft’s Dave Coplin.

“Choosing the most appropriate time for work and choosing the most appropriate location for work is what true flexible working is all about,” he says.

“Today, in lots of job roles, you can disconnect the clock from the work you have to do. But to be able to do this, people need to take a different approach to how they share information. By default, people should be able to use tools to share information so that everyone has access to it and conversations are had in the open rather than locked away in email inboxes where only the chosen few can see it.

“What that does is that it disconnects times from that equation. So six months from now, when a new employee starts and he/she wants to know about the project I was working on all the information is available to them through using tools such as Yammer and SharePoint. So they can quickly get up to speed.”

Having useful flexible working tools also helps employees work cohesively to achieve targets and helps build a healthy work environment.

Coplin adds: “Having conversations in the open helps everyone know what their colleagues are working on. This unites them as a team enabling them to be an effective unit wherever they are and often an even more effective unit because they can work from the best place for them to get the work done.”

Tools that make flexible working feasible include Microsoft Office 365 which helps users work on the go without productivity being compromised.

Be it multiple team members working on a document simultaneously with OneDrive for Business or attending business meetings remotely with Skype for Business, Microsoft Office 365 has handy tools to make remote working easy. Click here to find out more.

5. Talk as much about “switching off” as you do about “switching on”

According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, over 50% of employees report that flexible working helps them achieve a better work–life balance.

Another report by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) found that employees who work flexibly often “have a greater sense of responsibility, ownership and control of their working life”.

 In order to help your workers make the most of flexible working, employers needs to encourage them to make time for “downtime”.

 “It’s very common to hear about people working from home and doing twice the hours that they would have done in the office,” Hickey from Maxus says. “So the risk is that work seeps ever more into home life and, whilst some people will have the self-discipline to switch off, others will find themselves checking their emails in bed.”

All in all, having a chat with your staff about their needs and empowering them with flexible working tools is a no-brainer solution to enabling a great work-life balance.

6. Speak to your staff

A company is only as good as its employees - that’s why it’s crucial you take employee feedback onboard for setting up remote working policies.

Richard Chapman-Harris, equality, diversity and inclusion manager at global engineering firm Mott MacDonald, reckons the first thing that you need to do is to invest time in understanding what real agility means to you and your organisation.

“Your best information source is your staff, so consider how they would like to work and how this will make them work better for you.

“Employers’ family-friendly policies are now being increasingly scrutinised by all staff, whether they are mothers, fathers, carers, or simply future talent who do not want to work in the ways their parents did. To find the solution that best fits both your organisation and employees you must be open to everyone’s suggestions, while understanding that agility will be higher on agendas for a wider diversity of people than ever before.”

7. Keep your company data secure

Last month, we debunked the eight ridiculous flexible working myths you should NOT believe. A key misconception we talked about in the feature was the notion that flexible working will compromise business security.

With employees using different devices to access data from anywhere, employers need to eliminate all security risks your company data might be vulnerable to.

A lot of work is done outside the office today as more employees work at home and on the road. But is your business data protected if a mobile device falls into the hands of someone you do not trust? With Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite, you can reset a PIN or delete sensitive data remotely from a device in a few clicks.  You can also attach encryption and rights management rules to business data to help prevent unauthorised access and use.  You can be confident that your sensitive business data is safe with your remote workers wherever they are, whatever the circumstances. Have a look at this infographic to see more how it can make your business more efficient, flexible and secure.

8. Help employees understand business needs and set clear objectives

For Fiona Cannon OBE, Lloyds Banking Group director of diversity andinclusion and director of the Agile Future Forum, employers need to deeply understanding the needs of the business and the workforce and create a portfolio of practices that bridges the two.

She says,” Flexible working isn’t just about better meeting employee needs. It is a way for companies to meet their strategic business goals in a challenging business environment. It involves doing work differently and focusing on performance and outcomes rather than on time and attendance.”

Cannon thinks beginning with a clear definition of business objectives is the best place to start.

“The optimal agile working model depends on specific business requirements and workforce characteristics. When considering your agile business model, make sure you approach it at the right level – i.e. usually a single operation or business unit at a time, rather than across a whole company with different kinds of operations. Where multiple operations are similar (e.g. branches) then the agile working model may be similar, though specific requirements will need to be understood.”

What now?

By now, dear reader, you’ll have learnt the benefits, been warned against the myths, and know fail-safe ways to make flexible working work for your organisation.

All in all, flexible working is about fostering a culture that enables businesses to grow while keeping employees happy and productive.

To find out about technologies that can help your employees be productive anytime, anywhere – watch this video below.

Find out more about the technology used here

This article is brought to you in partnership with Microsoft

 

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