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You are here: HomeArticle › The Flexible Enterprise - win, win, win
for people, organisational productivity and the environment

The Flexible Enterprise - win, win, win
for people, organisational productivity and the environment

Members can download the full PDF of Guideline 337

Over 20 years with IT at the heart of business, organisations have consolidated around large, fixed facilities where functions and business processes could be co-located. This model, predicated on the efficiency of centralised controls is now being rendered obsolete by the transformative power of ubiquitous technologies.

In only a short time, the idea of a pervasive mobile workforce went from being years away to being the only way… not quite, but under pressure to reduce cost and improve operational efficiency most business are turning to a more flexible exploitation of all their assets. Many of the big-ticket technological and regulatory limitations that a few years ago may have made widespread mobility unrealistic are now gone:

  • Broadband data speeds have reached 95% of business establishments
  • Wireless broadband is available in ever major metropolitan areas – and wider
  • Mobile voice services have saturated all industries
  • Mobile and wireline prices have dropped, eliminating of usage charges in favour of subscription-based services
  • Voice over the Internet protocol (VoIP)
  • Deploying a mobile workforce requires that a number of elements come together to make these workers effective in the field:
    • mobile services — wireless, broadband;
    • devices — phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), notebooks, wireless cards;
    • service control — management of wireline, wireless, office/remote access in a seamless service offering;
    • enterprise applications — the business processes that are automated through mobile access; and
    • business application platforms — the foundations and interfaces for building enterprise applications over a converged wireless and wireline network.

Enterprises are already experiencing the benefits of a mobile workforce, but what lies ahead?

Businesses worldwide are seeing increasing benefits from empowering remote or mobile workers. The ubiquity of mobile technologies have enabled businesses to create fully connected people who have access to the right information at the right time from anywhere… and this includes access to the corporate resources – applications, documents, email, hardware and other devices as required.

The modern enterprise doesn’t restrict the work day to 9 to 5… the mobile enterprise operates an always on environment – responding as required to customers needs – an altogether more dynamic approach.

The number of mobile workers is growing dramatically – and most of the analysts have rounded on the prediction of 35% of the global workforce being mobile by 2013 – approximately 1.2 billion people. The most recent work NCC has access to from internationally renowned IDC, published in June 2010, this report evidences a shift from 919.4 million in 2008 (29% of the global workforce) to 1.19 billion in 2013 (34.9% of the workforce).

Flexible working – a win, win, win..

Flexible working represents a win, win, win – for enterprise productivity, for your people and for the environment. At a time when improving productivity is a key concern for every business and not least for the new Government; we strive as a nation to improve economic growth. A key enabler to a more effective and efficient economy is flexible working. As well as the potential cost savings flexible working can bring to organisations, the evidence shows it can reduce economic inactivity.

Flexible working is not just about flexibility in the locations of work but also about flexibility in timing and the balancing of what needs to be done and where it can be done from. Already 5.4 million workers in the UK have some sort of flexibility built into their work life.

The enterprise

Flexible working offers a range of benefits for the business, the obvious cost savings on building and accommodation costs, infrastructure costs, travel and expenses – however, cost savings are one part of the equation …. Perhaps the real benefits are in productivity gains. Workforce agility enables a business to be more flexible in its approach; allowing it to react to good and bad market conditions more efficiently.

The reputational benefits are more difficult to measure but are no less important.. An organisation that embraces flexibility gains recognition and a reputation as a good employer, which makes it more attractive and easier to retain good people, it also enables the organisation to reach beyond its core hinterland to recruit the right skills. Additionally, absence through sickness is reduced and all of these positive factors mean that the overall cost for recruitment should reduce.

The people

For many, flexible working is simply the ability to pick and choose the hours they work. The concept has evolved into something much greater than this and has, to some degree, merged with the concept of remote working. Flexible working today is about giving workers and their employers the opportunity to carry out their day-to-day role outside of the traditional 9 to 5 office culture.

The benefits of flexible or remote working are there for all to see. By enabling employees to work in a way that best suits them, be it remotely or simply part-time, we’re encouraging a healthy work-life balance. This has a knock on effect of making employees more productive as they feel more engaged and supported by the business. Ultimately this ‘output’ should be the key performance indicator by which we judge employees. Does it really matter if home workers took time off to watch the odd World Cup match but makes up time in the evening? Some would argue that by working from home, staff are ‘out of sight and out of mind’ and will do less work. However, those bosses should be encouraged to put metrics in place on output. If we simply look at the input, like the number of hours spent in an office, we all too often overlook the productivity of an organisation.

Another key benefit of flexible working is the positive impact it has on a business’ bottom line. The current economic climate has led many firms to assess the way in which they manage their day-to-day operations. In fact a study that BT conducted recently showed that almost half (45%) of businesses in the UK have changed the way they operate for the better as a direct result of the recession.

The environment

With the eyes of the world on the recent Copenhagen Summit and the ongoing debate, climate change has never been more topical. It is becoming apparent that global warming is occurring at a faster rate than many scientists had previously predicted. Furthermore, it is widely regarded that in the overall solution, businesses need to play the lead role. Some larger enterprises have been quick to respond in the realisation that many measures which make them less harmful to the environment also save them money. However it is now time for all organisations, enterprise and SMBs alike, to step up to the plate and realise that there is also a business case for implementing energy efficiency measures.

Emission reduction targets are being assessed and set for organisations, regions, and individual countries – the UK has committed to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. There is a wealth of existing and upcoming legislation all aimed at forcing and enticing organisations to help underwrite this achievement, such as the UK’s Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme which comes into effect in April 2010.

What is alarming, however, is the continued lack of awareness among organisations of how much energy they actually use, and what they can do about it. This is a senior and collective responsibility, not one that should be taken by individuals in each department. It is not the responsibility of the IT Manager, the facilities manager or financial controller. What was once seen as a ‘soft’ subject should now be a boardroom decision.

Overcoming the barriers to flexible working….

To implement a successful flexible working policy there needs to be a greater understanding of the benefits – and this is particularly true of the SME community. Cultural shift is a major challenge and for flexible working to work well, there needs to be absolute trust between employers and employees and management styles need to adapt to take into account those who are working flexibly.

Working from home isn’t for every body some need the dynamic of the office environment and the companionship of colleagues and simply don’t thrive on the isolation, others find it difficult to work under their own initiative and need the reassurance of the hierarchical structure… It also needs to be considered that not all roles are suitable for home or flexible working…

What is undeniably the case is that there are huge drivers and that flexible working is affecting all organisations both in the public and private sectors… The time is right for employers across all businesses in all sectors to embrace change… The technology exists to facilitate successful deployment of flexible working and the benefits to the organisations, its people and the environment can be easily measured..

To finish here’s some very quick takeaways to help underpin your strategic thinking around Workforce mobility...

Consultation is the key! If you're thinking about introducing mobile and or flexible working, ensure that what you are considering will be valued and is workable.

Ensure that flexible working underpins the strategic aims of the organisation

How could increased flexibility enhance working practices across the organisation?

Review the working arrangements that currently exist

Flexibility may already play a surprisingly large role in employees’ working lives.

Ask your employees

Find out what your employees would appreciate and value. Flexible working is as much a cultural shift for most organisations, showing greater trust in the employee. It is personal flexibility that accommodates personal needs that will build a strong, loyal workforce.

Manage expectations

Be careful not to promise to be open to all suggestions if in reality, your ability to offer flexibility is extremely limited.

Impact on clients and suppliers

Many managers are worried that their employees may not be available at core times in case a client rings.

Consider home working

What technology do you need? If you intend to spread the scope of home working widely, are files accessible? Do you have the right data security?

Ensure appropriate IT resources are in place

When planning the provision of communications and access to data and systems, flexible workers need to be considered. Making remote systems work is often one of the hardest elements to get right. Businesses are now finding that the best option is to outsource this requirement to an expert IT solutions provider.

Define how employees will be managed, evaluated and rewarded

Flexible working styles are often more independent; they require the clear setting of objectives and less micro management.

There is now a case that all sizes of organisation should commit to flexible working – when employees see their employer encouraging flexible working by measuring by output not by inputs then you will be in a better place to flourish.

We are witnessing a societal change where people want to work and interact in very different ways its now up to organisations to change to meet this challenge.

Members can download the full PDF of Guideline 337



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