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Flexible working could have “unexpected consequences”

/ Technical
July 13th, 2014

the unexpected consequences of flexible working

From April 2014, all employees in the UK will be given the right to request flexible working from their employer. For many businesses, this is a concern, and rightly so. A large-scale take-up of flexible working can change the dynamic of a workplace on multiple levels. Robert Rutherford, CEO of business and technology consultancy firm QuoStar, has identified the steps businesses must take to ensure they are ready to face the rule change and its consequences:

“Without sufficient preparation, flexible working can become a headache for both management and IT. Having employees spending increasing amounts of time working at different locations and on different devices can make it very difficult to keep track of efficiency, productivity and behaviour, which is why it’s so important to get the right systems and processes in place early, to ensure the smooth conduct of business remains unaltered.”

A few points to bear in mind when considering the implications of the new rules:

1. Think about your business objectives

What is the company trying to achieve in terms of its communications, operations and workflows? How much of this is effective and available remotely, and how much can you move online without disruption? Any systems or processes left behind may be out of bounds to some flexible workers.

2. Map the technology to the business

Any technology solution you choose must suit the business, not the other way around. However, all of your main IT requirements – service delivery, cloud, storage, network connectivity and security – will change as workers move off-site. For example, there’s a chance your cloud platforms or internet connectivity may not support flexible working in the way you expect.

3. It’s not business as usual

. Flexible workers will spend more time working alone – and will often demonstrate better productivity and quality as a result. However, they may also lack the motivation and morale that a communal working environment encourages. Simple collaboration tools, such as Lync and SharePoint can be employed to ensure everyone’s still a part of the team and gets the same overview of important information.

4. Infrastructure isn’t just about IT

The way employees communicate is unique to every office and seldom set in stone. For remote or flexible workers, a desk catch-up may become a conference call, which could create a demand for additional conference lines.

5. Review security

The threat landscape will multiply very quickly once you introduce personal devices, dual-purpose devices and multiple locations. Make sure to have an expert analyse the specific security controls that will be needed to protect against these and other threats.

6. Think about productivity

It’s easy to think that you can create a remote working solution on a shoe string. However, make a point of understanding the real impact of any cost-to-value decision for the longer term. Not all employees suit to home working, so how will you manage them and ensure they are being productive? IT systems can help, but you need clear policies that the IT will be monitoring and be enforcing. Also, don’t forget that some people and areas may require training.

7. Test it

It’s essential to test all systems to make sure flexible workers have access to the same tools as office-based workers. You can test virtually everything beforehand and failure to do so can have serious implications.

Rutherford adds: “Depending on the nature of the business, flexible working can, and often does provide a number of advantages in terms of both productivity and costs. However, both the IT and management landscape will change significantly. The sooner the business understands those changes the less likely it will face a crisis.”