Keeping up: Creating a flexible workplace worthy of your talent

Changes in flexible working legislation and advancements in technology are changing the expectations of today’s enterprise workers.

Having witnessed first-hand the benefits of personal mobility and social collaboration through their mass adoption of smartphones and tablets, today’s workers are now demanding a similar experience from their working environment, and businesses are struggling to deliver.

To be fair, workers have had quite the head start. Ever since the first smartphones were introduced the consumer market has been by far the main focus for device and mobile service providers. There are exceptions too. Giants of the web, like Google, have created progressive working environments full of technological innovations in their bids to attract and retain the best staff. But considering that BYOD (bring your own device) has been with us for some years, and the use of laptops and tablets across all departments is now the norm, it’s not unreasonable to ask why more businesses haven’t taken greater steps to formulate a coherent strategy for their modern workplace.

As with most initiatives to do with organisational change, the challenge is multifaceted. Dealing effectively with the technology, through the installation of new systems and the subsequent adjustment of business processes, is only half the battle. Equally important is bringing about attitudinal change (especially in key influential individuals within the business), and driving through a wider cultural shift toward today’s modern working practices.

The generation game

Treating all workers as a single group is, of course, a recipe for disaster. Expectations between generations can vary hugely, as can their willingness and ability to adjust to new working parameters. Today’s enterprise frequently juggles four or even five generations, all working together in the same environment.

Frequently, however, the same technical solutions can be applied to cater for these varying circumstances. It is the infrastructure’s flexibility that scores the points (and, as at least two generations will confirm, points mean prizes). Those approaching retirement may seek a reduction in hours, or the ability to work from home on a regular basis. In the same vein, the next wave of young and tech-savvy talent may be at their most productive when blending their professional and personal time, which would require the ability to connect to all the tools and systems they need to work in the evenings, or late at night.

The best approach is to understand how each user is carrying out their tasks, and what changes need to be made to help them thrive. Only when the human piece of the jigsaw is in place can the enterprise begin to identify and apply enabling changes to their systems.

A tripartisan approach

Most companies underestimate the depth of change needed to create an optimal working environment, but the guys over at Google and Facebook have long recognised that the effort is multifaceted; cultural, physical and technological. This means bringing the HR, IT and Facilities departments together. Fail on one, and the other two are weakened. A superfast, remote working VPN is no use if departmental processes cannot accommodate working from home, for example.

To be successful, the Board must ensure that all parties are given clear, measurable goals and objectives, which benefit both the firm and its workers. These goals can then form the foundations of a ‘social contract’ which can underpin a workplace policy, around which physical and virtual technologies can then be assembled.

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While such policies will allow greater technological freedom, through bring/choose your own device initiatives, attention should also be paid to the wider working environment too; many office buildings are way behind the curve from a technology perspective. Ironically, the need for businesses to improve and unify their communications has resulted in the poor utilisation of office space. Consider how frequently a video or conference call can only be conducted in a cavernous boardroom for example.

To date, unified communications (UC) technologies such as video conferencing have done little to improve the mobility and connectivity of employees, but thanks to the arrival of the cloud, and specifically unified communication as a service (UCaaS), businesses can not only transform the UC experience for employees, but the Facilities department can also set about redesigning the workspace. These spaces will include smaller computing devices and cloud-based file storage which will enable designers to make better use of less space and employ a flexible hot-desking approach to maximise use of the environment.

Firms that are brave enough to take this first step with UCaaS will enable their staff to connect seamlessly with their working environments and set forth on defining a new working culture, one which enables people to come together and work in a more focused and more collaborative manner.

More importantly, it will also enable them to attract and to retain the right talent by providing the most efficient and flexible work environment for generations to come.

Indi Sall, technical director, NG Bailey’s IT Services division