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Connected collaboration and the future of mobile workforces

Most of us are familiar with emailing and IM'ing on the move , but mobile working has been a real growth area within organisations in recent times and Virgin Media Business have just announced the results of a study into flexible working. Duncan Higgins, Director of Product and Marketing at Virgin Media Business tells us more about their recent connected collaboration research.

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Tell us then Duncan about the background to this study and why it was important for you to research this subject in such detail?

Flexible working and enabling employees to work in different ways is one of the fundamental things that we hear is an emerging macro trend. What we were wanting to understand is where the industry already was in terms of adoption of that behaviour and what was inhibiting the adoption of this new way of working. We spoke to the 500 UK CIO’s and business leaders, 70% of whom believed that flexible working had absolutely driven productivity benefits not only for the employees but also for their companies. But, only 48% of them today were actually in a position to make that happen and empower their employees to work in that way. So, facts that were interesting to understand as we talk about the broader of context of flexible working.

So what is standing in the way of these businesses offering this flexible working option to their workforces?

One of the main concerns when we spoke to the CIO’s that kept on coming up was the issue of security. 79% of the CIO’s said that security remains their number one worry. It is an understandable concern amongst the CIO’s but actually the way in which the network and the telecoms partners can work with those CIO’s to overcome those issues means that it actually need not be such a worry. There are solutions out there that actually can enable the corporate data networks and the security that is required for them, whilst also enabling the flexibility that their employees and their organizations are looking for as we move forward.

Is it perhaps an issue around awareness around some of the solutions available to businesses to overcome these challenges?

I think that there is a mixture. There is an understanding across the CIO community that things may exist and I think there is some degree to which particularly as you get into the SME segment that perhaps those solutions are perceived not to be fit for purpose for their budgets. I think there are absolutely solutions out there that are fit for purpose for the small organization. But I think it is our job as a telecoms partner to educate businesses and work with them on understanding how they can bring flexible working to life in their organisations. Also to really make them take that step together rather than us just say “we have a box that we can sell you, you go for it.” We need to work with them to bring them on that journey to what they want both their organizations and employees to be able to achieve moving forward.

Could some of the barriers actually be around CIO’s wanting to keep a close eye on what their employees are working on and where and also perhaps the wish of employees to keep their work and home life very separate?

What we found is that CIO’s actually believe that implementing a flexible working policy would reduce absenteeism and engagement would actually go up. It was found that they imagined that their staff would be happier and more productive if they were given the opportunity to work from home. This is in line with another report which came from the Trade Union Congress confirming that the amount of people working from home has increased by 113% over the last 5 years and there has been an increase in productivity from those organizations that have enabled that. So, on the part of CIO’s we are not seeing any reticence around trust in their employee workforce to do the right thing when they are at home. Similarly employees find that the great thing about flexible working can mean being in the office and then going home and switching things off is their preferred way of working. But for some this gives them the flexibility to fit their personal and work life together and to enable them to do what they need to do across their whole life in the most suitable way for them. It can actually be a win win for both employees and employers if it is done in the right way and if it is done with the right contract between the employers and the employee is set out as it is in most cases when flexible working is suited.

What are the things that you advise businesses to start looking at when starting to implement flexible working solutions for workforces?

The critical things are to really make sure that they actually understand what they are trying to achieve. There is a lot of talk at a high level about flexible working but in reality each individual company and organization will have its own requirements based around the type of workforce that it has and the size of the workforce that it has. It will need to consider carefully both its connectivity requirements and how that is best managed and whether it is across mobile, fixed or both and they will need to think about the security elements as we have already discussed. They will need to think about how it creates applications that work across different access technologies that are accessible from anywhere so that the end user or the employee is not hindered by the fact that they are working from home, i.e. they still have exactly the same access they would have if they were sitting in the office. There are lots of things that the CIO would need to consider but the critical thing always to bear in mind is what the outcome they are trying to achieve actually is. It is only useful in so far as it brings benefits to both the employee and the employer and there is no single blueprint for that because each organization is different.

Share with us an example of a business that has been transformed by employing these practices into their working practices?

One of the great successes I would say is Virgin Media Business. A few years ago as Virgin Media were relatively “20th Century” in a lot of the way things were done in the office and flexible working was not necessarily as instituted as it is now. By bringing applications onto Smartphone’s, Tablets, personal PC’s and giving people that flexibility and giving people access to the corporate network from locations other than from the office. We have moved to an environment where productivity increased and employee engagement has gone up as a result of implementing some of these policies. We have still got work to do, as with all of these things there will always be a transition and an ongoing process but in terms of living and buying into the things that we are selling and it has shown a great effect.

How do you see the adoption of flexible and remote working taking off over the next couple of years. Can you see this changing the working culture here in the UK?

I think that this is absolutely not a fad and I think the desire for employee flexibility and for people to be able to work in ways which suit their life is something that we are only going to be seeing more of in the future. Particularly as the evidence shows that an organisation’s productivity continues to grow then this is not a tradeoff between productivity and employee flexibility they are in a correlated positivity with each other. We see that employees who are given this flexibility do offer more discretional effort and do put more into their job because they are frankly happier and more engaged. There are obviously some high profile cases where movements away from home have been put in place but I think for the majority of organisations moving to this flexible working is something we will see more of and I think it will span all sizes and all segments of organizations. I think the really good thing is that it will be really good for business.

A line in your study says that 40% of those you studied had overheard their workforce complaining about being tied to a desk; especially in creative industries being able to move around with your work has got to be a good thing hasn’t it?

I think there is always a place and time for brainstorming and getting together but even with virtual white board etc you need not necessarily all be present in the same location. Allowing people working in an environment that is conducive to them does create a psychologically better environment for better quality thinking whether it is in a true creative industry or just a job that requires some creative thinking - then that can only be a good outcome.