Technology provides the resources for an increasingly flexible workforce
‘Flexible working’ is more than just working from home. It’s about working from wherever you need to be, whether that’s from a café with a client, a customer’s HQ or during your commute. By making best use of technology such as audio and video-conferencing, instant messenger and mobile internet this can be achieved while strengthening collaboration and enhancing a sense of community between colleagues – even if employees aren’t physically in the same place.
Business opportunities can be won or lost in a matter of minutes. Having employees who can work from anywhere, at any time and who aren’t tied to their desks means small businesses can be more responsive. In fact, being fleet of foot is one of the biggest advantages over larger competitors.
And the benefits don’t stop there. The long list of potential benefits include: a more efficient and productive organisation; a more empowered and motivated workforce; better customer service and increased customer loyalty; increased staff retention and attractiveness to potential employees; reduced levels of sickness absence; and working hours that best suit your employees and customers.
One of the tangible benefits of new ways of working practices is the potential to save money in terms of office space, which is one of the biggest overheads for small- and medium-sized businesses. For many businesses, automatically providing a fixed desk for every individual is not necessary as often desks are not occupied all of the time and employees may spend significant periods of time outside of the office. When these employees are absent the company is wasting money paying for empty desk space.
A new Vodafone UK study found that UK plc can potentially save around £34bn by freeing up desk space and working more flexibly. So, here are five practical steps to how you could implement new ways of working into your small business:
1. Step back: It’s important to understand the dynamics of your workplace. Speak to your employees or do some simple surveys, and you will get a good idea of how your business is functioning.
2. Work together: Agree goals for workplace productivity, use of space, communications and general employee satisfaction.
3. Know your employees: Get to know how your employees need to work – do they need to be in or out of the office meeting customers? Are they fixed, fixed-mobile, mobile or home workers? This builds the business case for change by shifting the traditional fixed profile of a worker to a much more flexible and mobilised workforce.
4. Plan for change: Use research, insights and other business’ success stories to transform your workplace. This involves answering a number of questions: do we need office space, everyday, for every employee? Could we move to smaller office space and work even more effectively? Do we have the technology to enable employees to work flexibly? Once you’ve answered these, create a plan to outline changes in office space design, technology use, employee behaviours and process simplification.
5. Make the transition: The transition to flexible working will be gradual and success will only be achieved if the changes involve employees at every level – if it’s appropriate for them to work this way – and management supports employees. It is important they are kept engaged and supported throughout the process.
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