How to give staff the flexibility they want

There is an extraordinary array of perks available to bosses trying to butter up their staff these days. But why over-complicate things when what people really want it to work flexibly when they need to?

by Lee Hull
Last Updated: 22 Mar 2013

Managers today are bombarded with some of the strangest trends and buzzwords that claim to improve happiness and productivity for their staff. From open plan offices to exercise classes, these methods range from the wonderful to the weird. But why overcomplicate the issue?

We recently conducted a study with 500 of the UKs leading CIOs and found more than half (60%) of employees are expecting to work from home within the next decade, and 72% of those asked believe that face-to-face meetings with employees will soon be a thing of the past. With these statistics in mind, doesn’t it seem crazy that any manager or employer would prevent their own staff from reaping the benefits of flexible working?

So what’s available for the forward-thinking manager who wants engaged, productive staff? The key trends that are taking the spotlight here are connectivity, flexibility and familiarity. 

Let’s take connectivity first:

Making sure staff have access to superfast connectivity (i.e. internet, instant messaging, document-sharing) is the top investment priority for 31% of UK businesses. This means that when working remotely, they can get instant access to business files via a remote connection. Whether it is via email, video conferencing, social networking or instant messaging, working from home or any other location for that matter is all part of being able to work flexibly.

Most people want to commute less and flexible working will help make this a reality. But an aversion to the daily commute is not the only reason smart managers are adopting flexible working – it helps companies retain the valuable experience and knowledge of working mothers; it enables staff to be productive whilst they wait at home for a gas service or important package; and it means staff can beaver away in their home office when the unpredictable British weather snows them in.

And it doesn’t stop there – hot-desking schemes allow more people to work on the move, which can be invaluable for sales teams, social workers or indeed anyone that works from multiple locations.  
This brings us to familiarity, which is about providing staff with tools that they already use rather than giving them standard office IT equipment and having to train them to use it. 

It is easier and more efficient if people can use the same tablet or phone at work as they already use with ease at home. Before you start to worry about the cost of providing everyone with a different gadget, check out the idea of ‘bringing-your-own device’, where employees choose their own work technology and the company contributes part of the cost. It really does show that the answer to improving staff satisfaction might literally be right under our nose.

Lots of businesses have already set the wheels in motion to support these changes in working life. Britain can look forward to a happier workforce in the near future if managers are optimistic and open minded towards the latest changes in technology and working practices. If they trust their staff to adopt these trends, businesses will reap the benefits. 

Lee Hull is director of business markets, Virgin Media Business

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