The office is changing, and not just with regard to how many technologies from your favourite childhood sci-fi movies you can now fit into one modern office. Workers across industries are increasingly using portable devices to complete that spreadsheet or speak to a colleague on the move. And with rent in London and across cities in the UK on the up, employees are increasingly craving more flexible ways to work for practical reasons, too, which do not necessarily involve a long commute to work day in, day out.
The physical office is becoming less important as the foundation of a business, and more of a hub for occasional meetings. So much so that two fifths of knowledge workers (people who ‘think’ for a living, or, a short for most office workers) now believe virtual teams can be more effective than face-to-face teams. We recently surveyed 9,000 knowledge workers from the UK, US and Germany for the Way We Work study and were blown away by the extent to which workers now want to turn to flexi-working.
However, there is a still long way to go to create a modern, flexible workplace — with at least one in five (22 per cent) knowledge workers feeling their companies do not have the right technology in place to build trust and make effective team decisions without physical meetings. Below is a cheat sheet on how you can nurture a healthy flexi-working culture that suits you and your employees.
Don’t let culture play catch-up
The key to making a remote working culture thrive is to never assume. While many workers desire more flexible work habits, that doesn’t mean they’re successful ‘anywhere workers’ automatically. As a manager, you’ll need to help employees along a bit so they can graduate into being productive flexi-workers. After all, would you let someone operate on you without first completing medical school, even if they’d wanted to become a doctor since childhood?
When you first introduce flexi-working, it is natural that some workers will take longer to get into the full swing of it. It is your duty as a manager to predict this and, if need be, guide them through it. Before putting any remote working policy in place, involve employees in the process and let them try it out first, working from home as frequently as possible. Then, consult employees on their experiences. Taking that feedback into consideration, you can start turning flexi-working into official company policy.
No policy trumps training
A well-planned and aptly worded policy on its own will not cut it, however. To make it a success, your business should offer training to any employee wishing to work more flexibly. This should involve information on best practices, best places and time management. The latter is particularly important both from a productivity and work-life balance viewpoint — otherwise, remote workers may feel the pressure to appear constantly online, giving ‘anywhere’ working the misleading image of ‘anytime’ working. These training sessions, carried out over several months, should be open and responsive, offering workers the opportunity to give honest feedback and raise any concerns they may have.
In a similar vein, make sure to run regular team meetings — even if the team is in different locations, they should feel connected and aware of what is going on in all areas of the business. In fact, if done well, remote working can make your employees more close-knit through the increased emphasis on the work itself, alongside better-planned ways for catching up.
Shape it around the right software
To deliver the culture and practices needed for the flexi-working way, you next need to turn your attention to software. I’ve deliberately brought up technology after culture. Too often, managers assume that finding the right collaboration software will take care of the culture; however, the two should go hand in hand. Look at it this way: you could install new, expensive collaboration software on every employee’s computer, hope that they will use it, and leave it be, or you can make the software an integral part of your work culture, for existing and new employees. You can take one guess which one is most effective in the long run.
There are, however, a few key points to consider when choosing the platform to accommodate remote working. As a first step, it has to be made for collaboration. For example, multiple people need to be able to work on the same document from different locations, and it is essential that no edits are lost or lagged. Employees now expect easy document editing and sharing as a standard, so make sure any software you choose offers that, and more.
On that note, do not settle for technology that only caters for workers’ expectations for the here and now. Make sure that any software you choose is future-proof. With more and more people working from endpoint devices such as tablets and their phones, test out the software’s functionality on mobile. Do some research and see how often it is updated. Finally, to really shape your flexi-working culture around software, involve your team and get them to try out your top choices using their free trial versions. Making the team part of the decision process, you are applying the key to a successful and happy remote working culture: communication.
What about hardware?
Some see flexi-working as a way to cut corners on hardware, hoping that workers will use and wear their own hardware. But with many still using the office regularly, would you really expect workers to come in with their personal computers, of all shapes and sizes? Or what if someone has a PC at home that moves at the speed of a snail—how would that impact their overall efficiency?
If you want to transition to a flexible work culture, you should equip people with the devices that support it. Take this as an opportunity to rethink hardware in the office, too, and purchase laptops that are easily portable and connect well with any hardware you have in the office. You could even entirely replace office PCs with laptops, just as long as you’re ready to provide employees with additional tools, such as Bluetooth keyboards and mice, or additional displays in the office.
In addition to providing computers, consider providing or subsidising endpoint devices. The world is now mobile-first in many areas, with employees regularly using their mobile to work during their commute or between meetings. Make it official — even if not providing them with one more device to carry around, offer to subsidise their phone bills, including data allowance.Finally, furniture, which perhaps merits the name ‘hardware’ the most, is often neglected in discussions of flexi-working. While it is a given that the modern office comes with ergonomic desks and chairs, what about the remote worker? Of course, it would be impossible, not to mention incredibly costly, to furnish every worker’s remote working hub. Even so, as sitting poorly can impact productivity and health alike, there are a few things you can do to take good work practices to the home. You could offer subsidies for ergonomic furniture, or provide training and guidance on how employees should equip their home. No slouching in bed all day.
Master flexibility yourself
To really put flexi-working at the heart of your business, everyone has to be involved—and that includes you. Culture is not something static but moulded by each employee and manager. Show the way to flexi-working, and don’t shy away from honestly communicating all its initial difficulties. You could give your team regular updates as you discover the best way to work for yourself, or share your experiences during training sessions. That will go a long way in making your flexi-working open and, most importantly, human.
As you go through the journey yourself, you will also realise that there is no text-book way to take to flexi-working. Apply this insight to your overall plan, and remember that different people will learn new working habits differently and at a different pace. After all, you may be at home at many things mobile, but that does not mean your colleagues will automatically excel at mobile collaboration. Do not be frustrated, however, if some employees struggle with remote working initially. The key is to give them time to adjust as well as talk through any concerns at regular feedback sessions. Only then can they overcome any issues and reap the benefits of flexi-working.
The seemingly most natural thing sometimes take the most work to implement well. It is the same with workplace culture—to ensure it really corresponds with our times and looks to the future, you would do well to see it as a complex process. It will take a significant amount of time, energy and communication. But it can lead to a happier and more productive team, better results, and ultimately, a completely new way of working and seeing work.
Sally Barringer, HR Manager at Unify