As we start the new year, the days are short, the morning commute as hellish as ever, and traffic is gridlocked. Wouldn’t it be ideal if more employers recognised this and offered a solution involving flexible hours and remote collaboration, or even home-working? 

The benefits of flexible working

More and more companies are switching on to the benefits this can bring in terms of their employees’ well-being and productivity. There are many ways firms can ease the old-school 9-5 workday grind. They can allow colleagues to occasionally work from home or a third place, and provide tools that enable them to work remotely and support an agile working agenda. This can be done in parallel with making provisions for a hi-tech and collaborative workplace where colleagues can get together regularly to connect, get work done and be part of an effective team.

Agile or activity based working is the ability to work at any place, at any time and it can be extremely empowering. Employers of course have a big role to play in enabling this – through good IT connectivity and by creating a culture in which it’s seen as acceptable, even encouraged, for staff to work from a tertiary location such as their own homes. Why not make it easy for staff and the company to regain control of inefficient and uncomfortable travel time? Especially, when at no fault of your own, train staff decides to halt the transport system, taking the productivity of several million people at ransom.

‘Presenteeism’ is a big issue in the British workplace, but studies show it doesn’t aid productivity. It’s best to enable your workforce to be productive anywhere, and the results will speak for themselves. 

Technology is key 

Employers need to ask, are we making the most of technology to improve collaboration, employee training and development? A solid technology strategy has the potential to increase productivity, while improving staff recruitment and retention. Employers should move beyond traditional office infrastructure, based on the assumption that most people work primarily at a single, fixed location, such as a dedicated workstation. Our experiences with clients suggest that most organisations have a variety of work styles, with varying mobility levels and technology preferences. Executives may spend the majority of time collaborating away from the office, using tablets and smart phones, whereas technical staff may spend a lot of time at their desks making use of high-spec desktop PCs. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach for office design may not be the most appropriate solution, especially in a large enterprise.

We’re still social creatures

To be honest, virtual reality will never fully replace actuality. Human beings aren’t there yet. One-to-one human contact is always preferable. But in instances where employees need to be mobile in order to do their job, what additional provisions are in place to facilitate staff collaboration, resolve conflicts or provide training and development? Are employers making the most out of tools such as video conferencing and on demand services? And can staff access essential online tools such as the intranet, CRM platforms or social media in order to feel properly connected if working from home or remotely?

Is there a danger we can’t switch off?

Finally, it’s important to make sure that employees who do work away from the office don’t feel that they are, or have to be ‘always on’. Working from home saves time in terms of cutting out the commute, but it also shouldn’t mean that people are chained to their ‘desk’ long after office-based colleagues have gone home, just to prove their productivity. The whole point of agile or remote working is to ‘free’ employees to be productive wherever they are, be it the workplace, at home, a coffee shop or a collaborative space such as a lab or lecture theatre.

Creating collaborative spaces where colleagues or counterparts in other organisations can come together is also a big part of how modern organisations should be thinking about how they allow their workforce to hit peak productivity.