Mobile Working and the Future of workplaces
I was recently invited to address a conference about teleworking in Australia. The conference was held by a business group called Females in Technology and Telecommunications (FITT), who exist to promote and increase the number of women leading productive, balanced and equitable lives in technology and telecommunications throughout Australia. I enjoyed participating in the FITT conference and being part of positive conversations, all of which enable an exchange of ideas and fresh thinking which enable change to happen.
When the Harvey Nash Group made the decision to relocate our headquarters to Heron Tower we made one other very siginificant decision: to put mobile working at the heart of much of what we do. As a professional services organisation with senior consultants spending much of their time on client assignments and away from the office we have always had an open approach to mobile working, but to formally introduce mobile working was inevitably a step into the unknown. Our experience has been extremely positive. From helping employees juggle their domestic priorities, to saving costs, to improving employee retention, we have seen many benefits. But like any major change programme, it does come with challenges. There is no unique implementation formula that guarantees its success.
Having a culture of mutual trust and open communication will allow a successful implementation of mobile working practices, whilst ensuring that potential gains are maximised and possible problems identified quickly and dealt with. However, the capitalisation of the positive effects of mobile working will not happen overnight and careful planning needs to go into its implementation.
Companies also need to train their staff in essential managerial skills such as delegration and communication. Managers must set expectations and communicate constantly to ensure those are met, by both parties. If mobile working is about giving employees more responsibility, managers need to know how to manage from a distance. They also need to know how to recognise the work of those who are not always physically present and to establish continuous, open communication between their reportee(s) and themselves, and between the members of the team, regardless of their physical location.
The effort and time spent in implementing mobile working must be seen as an investment, rather than a cost. Mobile working adds to the resilience of the business, as companies can continue to function beyond eventualities such as transport delays or extreme weather, adding to overall competitiveness of the wider economy.
Interestingly, in recent research undertaken by the Harvey Nash Group on mobile working, benefits cited by employers included work being completed more quickly, increase in creativity, improved retention, increase in productivity, improved talent retention and an actual bottom line increase in working hours. Employees cited benefits to teleworking as improved work/life balance, reduction in stress, more working hours due to lack of commute, improved internal working relationships, higher engagement levels with work and projects and improved employee-employer relationship.
Moreover, mobile working can enchance the opportunities for expansion, as it enables growing firms to do so incrementally and without having to take on too many expenses, such as rent or employment costs, at one time. It also makes for easier and more cost-effective international collaborations, as firms don't need to have physical offices in different countries and are more flexible to adapt to different time zones.
For all this to happen, however, investment in technological infrastructure across the country is needed. If businesses are expected to work from anywhere, at any time, they need to have access to quality, high-speed broadband so the demand for remote working can be met without any technological limitations. I welcome the new NBN team and hope that all of us in the technology community will soon receive further clarification on the next steps of the NBN.
What is certain is that the workplace of the future will look drastically different to the workplaces we are familiar with today. The ability to truly work remotely will demand a 'plug 'n' play' type functionality from offices and we can expect to see many more apps and teleworking programmes aimed at enabling communication and document sharing. Cloud technology will enable this further however security concerns will need to be addressed. Such has been the rise in cloud technology, the British Standards Institute will soon launch a certification of accreditation in cloud security, to give firms peace of mind when choosing a supplier.
The modern office needs to evolve in order to retain the best talent. Whilst some staff will work remotely, the office needs to be an environment that they consistently want to return to. Rather than focussing on lower costs (even though this is a benefit of increased mobile working), employers should working towards an environment which successfully manages the increasingly blurry line between work and social. Open plan spaces with no barriers encourage collaboration and easily accessible breakout areas will enable reflective individual time or team discussions away from the confines of a meeting or board room. The office needs to be somewhere exciting, a catalytic place where the very best talent feel inspired to work.
Whilst there has been great progress made across the globe in teleworking, there are still some areas which should be immediately addressed. For example, men are less likely to have access to the family-friendly or flexible working arrangements than women. According to research by the Diversity Council of Australia, around 18% of men, including 37% of young fathers, had ''seriously considered'' leaving an organisation due to a lack of flexibility. Recent research undertaken by the 100 Percent Project highlights that while many men with families express an interest in greater work-life balance, they are reluctant to avail themselves of flexible work arrangements where they are offered. One key reason for this is that working flexibly is stereotypically seen to show a lack of ambition or commitment. The reputation of flexible working must be improved to ensure that every employee feels positive about taking advantage of it and improving their work/life balance.
What I find most interesting and satisfying are the motivations behind employers offering teleworking. Our 2010 research show that the employers who took part enabled teleworking because of the flexibility it gave them and their staff; a flexibility that translated into having access to a better and wider pool of workers. Business has grasped that it is more important to focus on skills, attitude and personal attributes rather than location or availability of talent. I look forward to watching and discussing the evolution of teleworking over the next few years. You can read our recent research here.