Flexi-working is a new reality thanks in part to disruptive digital technologies. But misconceptions cause some organisations to either do it poorly or avoid it for fear of failure, says Teresa Badenhorst, HR director of Ricoh SA.
Flexi-working is an old concept that many companies avoided since they feared employees would be unproductive and unresponsive to customer needs. But that was in the past when it was difficult for mobile or remote employees to communicate and collaborate effectively, either within the company with their colleagues or beyond with external stakeholders such as business partners and customers.
Cellphones improved matters, while smartphones helped even more. Smartphones not only allow our employees to call and message but allow them to access e-mail, video call and conference without being in the office.
Until now it was still difficult to adequately collaborate like you would if you were in the same office.
Now we have wireless connectivity. We have new collaboration technologies that help us work face-to-face — even when we’re not in the same room. Visual communications and document collaboration are two crucial aspects we need to be able to work together. Interactive flat panels, unified communications, and interactive business projectors help us connect with apps on smartphones and tablets, programs on our laptops and desktops, and IP phones in our offices and our customers’ offices.
This means that we can create and edit documents together no matter where we are. We can build presentations, edit reports, create tender documents, and collaborate around digitalised operational business documents.
The appeal of flexi-working is that it is a smart way of working in this knowledge-based world. Flexi-workers can share intelligent desks with IP phones and all the wireless connectivity they need. They may even be in open plan spaces. A desk for every employee on expensive commercial real estate, all employees doggedly in the office during office hours, managers eyeballing their people as an archaic and false measurement of productivity. Managers get the tools needed to effectively line manage flexible workers and remain in control of deliverables from remote employees.
Some people do need to work from an office. Almost every employee must work from the office at some point, but not every employee has to be in the office all the time to do their work.
Flexi-workers don’t benefit by working fewer hours, they benefit by continuing to work their core hours while allowing them to spend time with their families. They benefit from flexi-working by being able to work from remote sites and avoiding being unproductive for hours on end during the rush hour.
People are also more than robots. We may be employees but we are also people. We have partners, spouses, children, hobbies, activities, passions. We have parents and pets, homes we care for, concerns such as health and wellness. We can become stressed, tired, and unproductive. But we also become well again.
Flexi-working is the smart way to work because it’s working with people not against them. It gives them the opportunity to drop the kids at school in the morning instead of enduring the traffic either end of 12-hour days. But it keeps them productive while they do it. It allows them the freedom to make that early morning gym session and get to the office after rush hour. It helps them squeeze an extra two hours into their day instead of burning fossil fuel in a sea of cars.
Businesses can slim down their office space in effective flexi-working environments. It saves money and it’s efficient. Connected meeting rooms make bookings easier for all employees, including those working offsite. They also advertise their availability to those in the office who may need isolation to complete a task. Because flexi-working may imply a certain amount of hot-desking.
The final consideration in a shift to flexi-working is understanding that people need to understand change if it’s going to be successful. They have to know how they fit into the new environment, how their colleagues fit in, what everyone’s roles are, why this different way is better, and how it helps them. It’s also the right time to demonstrate how the technologies at their fingertips empower them to be better at what they do — for themselves, their colleagues, and their customers. Understanding the benefits of change helps us transition under our own impetus.