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16 October 2014updated 16 Dec 2014 9:49am

“Work is a thing you do, not a place you go”

 On 30 June 2014 the right to request flexible working was extended to all UK employees.

By Scott McCool

On June 30th 2014 the right to request flexible working was extended to all UK employees. Overnight businesses went from needing to provide flexibility for a select few to potentially hundreds of thousands of staff.

The popularity of flexible working both for employees and employers has seen four out of five requests granted, according to Pensions Minister Steve Webb. And for the first time ever, the workforce spans five generations, meaning the average enterprise has to incorporate a diverse set of needs; for example, millennials will want to work differently to baby boomers.

To satisfy everyone, the right technology is vital. Business leaders should consider accommodating as many requests as is practical given that flexible working is proven[1] to reduce real estate costs and salary bills. It is also a key factor in employee recruitment and retention across the whole age range of the working population.  In this day and age, it is no surprise that a quarter of office workers would rather have a flexible working package than a pay rise[2].

But how can business leaders incorporate this into their future plans? The determining success factor is whether the Board can push these plans beyond the boardroom and into the everyday processes of each business group.

Everyone from finance to facilities needs to be more collaborative to support flexible working practices that can contribute to the overall growth and productivity of the business.  The traditional boundaries of departments and hierarchy are now blurring in the modern enterprise, with cross-functional projects and processes becoming the norm.  Each department has a different set of requirements, so having the right technology is the key. IT becomes the centralised hub consulting the Board and business groups on the technology that their organisation and their people need to be successful.

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The Board

Technology will facilitate the new wave of flexible working, but it must be integrated into business processes for it to be a help rather than a hindrance. Its critical solutions are integrated and interoperable with process-specific solutions across the full range of business groups, which can prevent employees from finding their own compatibility workarounds that put the infrastructure at risk.

Investing in collaboration technologies which provide all employees with the ability to work remotely and communicate seamlessly outside an organisation is the key to maintaining productivity in the modern, flexible enterprise. One example is Intelligent Energy, world renowned for its modular, low-carbon fuel cell systems, with over 300 employees located in the UK, US, Japan and India. It faced the challenge of connecting its dispersed network of engineers, and by using Polycom video solutions, they are not able to not only connect the engineers internally – which means faster time to market – but also able to collaborate with customers and suppliers outside the organisation. The result has been a contented workforce who is achieving significant cost and time savings. The collaboration and support of the Board is vital to achieving these types of results which is a win-win for all. Flexibility needs to extend beyond location into working practices.

“IT innovations play an increasingly critical role in the ways we interact and collaborate with each other. The penetration of IT in the business world has improved the way business is conducted and the power now lies in the IT leaders’ hands to drive the innovation further throughout the organisation,” added Dr Carsten Sørensen, Reader (Associate Professor) in Digital Innovation at The London School of Economics.

Human Resources

From a HR’s perspective, the increasing number of flexible working requests means that a formalised process for dealing with these as well as a clear company policy is essential.

For its part, HR needs to consider guidelines and policies around the use and care of this technology. Rules around accessing and storing files and company resources remotely need to be drafted in conjunction with the IT department. In fact, HR needs to work more closely than ever with IT to implement infrastructure and solutions that support flexible working policies.

Sales and Customer Services

In the past sales and customer service teams had to be visible at their desk from nine to five, mostly because they needed to connect to the internal network to access business critical systems like CRM solutions. The advent of cloud-based solutions and Voice over IP (VoIP) means sales teams can be more flexible in terms of location, as they can access these systems from anywhere, through any device.

In an increasingly digital world, marketing and sales rely on heavily on IT solutions to do their jobs. CRM tools, marketing automation, web platforms and production, reporting and tracking are all now digitised, partially due to the productivity gains but also because it is easier to extract and analyse data to measure ROI. If you invest in these solutions ‘as a Service’, your employees are able to access them from anywhere. The obvious benefit is sales people do not need to return to the office between meetings, allowing them to manage their time better and complete their work from anywhere. Modern consumers expect to connect with their colleagues at any time and in a variety of ways, such as instant chat, video conferencing and social media, all through the corporate website. All of these solutions and systems need to be interoperable and seamless today, which means that marketing, sales and customer service teams need to work closely with IT to implement and integrate them into their processes.

Information Technology

The CIO and the IT team’s digital skills have never been more in demand, but it’s no longer just about adjusting equipment. IT should be a trusted advisor, recommending the right solution for each business group and helping them to integrate technologies that facilitate flexible working. IT becomes more consultative and will need to be less physically present, also taking advantage of working remotely and flexibly.

Investing in the right technology will drive growth and productivity even with staff working flexibly. For example, research shows that employees equipped with video conferencing are up to 39 percent more productive when working remotely[1]. It also is worth investing the time and resources to collaborate with the appropriate business leaders to ensure policies, guidelines and provisions are in place to support your employees.

[Infographic 2, taken from ‘6 Ways IT Will Move From the Back Office to the Boardroom’]

To maintain services and security across a range of devices and operating systems, it is imperative IT has a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy. More and more employees are using their personal devices for work even without an official BYOD policy, which can cause security and accountability issues.

Whatever the needs of your business, and whichever technologies you choose to implement, the CIO needs to retain a strategic overview of all of these new solutions. Without a centralised function monitoring the interoperability, simplicity of use and adoption rates of new technologies, an influx of shadow IT is a danger for any organisation. The IT group as a whole needs to understand the requirements and challenges of each business group so that they can be effective advisors to the business.

It is clear that a digital economy calls for a digital enterprise, which means IT must work closely with all business groups within an organisation. IT must not only get out of the back office and into the boardroom, it must also think of itself and its advice as indispensable when it comes to making strategic infrastructure decisions.

Scott McCool, CIO, Polycom

[1] Redshift Research, European Companies Say Flexible Working Strategies Have More Financial Impact and Benefits Than Cost Cutting, June 2012

[2] A survey of 2,000 business employees and 200 business owners carried out for Samsung’s Enterprise Business, September 2013