John Maynard Keynes’ prediction that we’d all be working a 15 hour week may be impossibly far off, but the way that we’re working is certainly changing. Of course, it depends on the industry you’re in – but a more flexible approach is taking hold among many employers in the UK. No longer does every company insist that their staff work between 9am – 5.30pm, and no longer do they expect their workforce to always be physically present every day of the week.
Working from home is being more enthusiastically and universally accepted, allowing for greater flexibility in work-life balance, and the opportunity to avoid the dreaded commute. According to the Office For National Statistics, the number of people working from home has increased by 1.3 million since 1998. Around 14% of those in work are considered home workers, which is up from 11% in 1998.
But what has been the catalyst for this dramatic change? Technology!
People are now connected wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. Improving mobile coverage, both 3G and 4G, enable people to access the internet on the move. Wi-Fi is now available in coffee shops, libraries, workspaces, pubs, restaurants, airports, and train stations – to name just a few spots. The UK actually has the second highest number of available Wi-Fi locations of any country in the world, behind South Korea. This increased accessibility helps people remain productive on the move. (*Source for hyperlink: http://bit.ly/1NlwGvN)
Broadband is also faster than ever, with many UK residents enjoying superfast connections at home. Whilst this has obvious benefits for leisure and enjoyment, it also opens up the opportunity for real productivity from home.
Devices are becoming more affordable, and their application for work and leisure is more blurred than ever. For example, a Microsoft Surface tablet can be used to watch Sky Go, or it can be used to type up your notes from yesterday’s meeting. Many experts argue that Apple’s iPad Pro is now challenging the Surface in the enterprise arena.
Who can blame them – it’s an extremely lucrative market!
Working from home
Technology has opened up the opportunity to work from home. Better devices, faster internet, and mobile connectivity helps – but it’s also cloud-based business systems that facilitate full productivity. When customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other critical systems are available to access through a web browser, the world is your oyster.
Storing data on the cloud means that staff don’t necessarily need to be on-site to access the information they need. So long as they have the right access credentials, they can fully utilise the systems that make a business tick. Security is indeed paramount, so careful steps should be taken to ensure there’s no weak spots.
A workforce is now able to communicate immediately through a variety of instant messaging options. Whether it’s Salesforce Chatter, Slack, Skype, or another tool – collaboration and communication is easy, wherever the team is located.
Nowhere to hide
Whether staff are working on the move or working from home, these days there’s nowhere to hide. Web-based time tracking can monitor the productivity of your team and provide real-time data to managers. However, task planning must be carefully set out, so that clear objectives and goals are met as normal – to ensure that those working remotely still add value to an organisation.
The most important part of this rapid change is the increased trust between employers and employees. Employers are slowly starting to recognise that working from home is a truly viable option, if approached properly – with a mutual assurance and understanding between both parties.
Business owners and managers can use this flexibility as a key retention tool, to keep up team morale and to make the workforce feel trusted and valued. For example, allowing flexible working around one of your team members’ Wednesday school run will keep them happy and loyal to your trust. A study from the University of Warwick confirms that happier employees are 12% more productive – this cannot be underestimated. Showing your appreciation for a team member’s home life will directly affect their performance at work.
*Link to the Warwick study (for hyperlink):
Bonding the team
Absence makes the heart from fonder, yes? Well, within reason.
There are very clear benefits to getting the team together face-to-face. It very much depends on the nature of the business, as technology will allow some staff to work from home all the time. There may well be members of the team whose job is somewhat detached from the rest of your workforce, meaning that they have little need to collaborate on projects or communicate with others.
However, even in these cases, humans are naturally social creatures. Developing a culture requires the team to be bonded, to share common experiences and memories, and to understand the roles people have and the work they do. Technology cannot fully replicate a get together – whether it be in the office or in the pub.