How "flexi-working" can create a sustained competitive advantage

You’re up at 6am for your 10km run and you’re back at home just before 7am. Shower, eggs on toast and there’s still plenty of time to check email before your 8am video call from China. By 9am you’re ready for your morning coffee so you stroll to your local café, with your iPad streaming that webinar you registered for yesterday. After its finished you post the SlideShare presentation to the company approved Dropbox folder that you share with your team members. This isn't a flashback to an episode of the Jetsons, but a realistic option for many enabled Australian workers.

Types of "flexi-workers"

Whether you’re hot-desking with no fixed abode, spending two days a week working at home as an IT consultant, making the most of workshifting as a new mum or operating as a full-fledged teleworker, you’ll know that the traditional workspace is less and less the norm. With the introduction of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) and the government set to announce a significant percentage of its workers would be allowed to work from home part-time, eco-friendly flexi-working is on the rise (and not just because it’s advocated by government).

It's worth noting a couple of points:

  1. Flexible working is not teleworking!  Telework Australia states: "Telework means work from a distance although it has many forms and labels". While the term teleworking makes sense for someone working from home a few days a week, we prefer the term "flexible working", implying the ability to work effectively from any location, whether at home, on the road or across multiple offices.
  2. Flexible working is not remote access.  Remote access is one of the technologies that enbles flexible working, but the ability to collaborate from any device, anywhere and access enterprise applications on any device is also critical. Flexible working means creating a a workplace model that enables communication and collaboration regardless of location or device.

Work = action not place

But flexible working isn’t simply about personal convenience. It’s borne of a change in the way we see work – as an activity not a location. Because of the consumer technology obsessed world in which we live, our IT at home can exceed that experienced at work. Flexible working isn’t right for all roles, in some cases its simply not pragmatic – customer service and retail being two obvious examples.

The goal: A seamless transition

The goal with flexible working is to enable the same process of working at home as at the traditional office. Essentially, teleworking is about the same things you’ve always done, but in a remote location. The benefits of telecommuting and teleworking are many:

  • Attracting and retaining a better talent pool
  • More productive and efficient workers via an improved work-life balance
  • Reduced real estate and operating costs for organisations
  • An improved continuity of operations and a reduced carbon footprint

1. Enabling

Enabling remote working means creating a workplace model that enables communication and collaboration – a step beyond ‘reply all’ in email and a move towards a multi-media mash-up of true connectivity between multiple workers in multiple locations.

Many advocates of remote working advocate video collaboration, voice and conference, presence and instant messaging. The nirvana for flexible working – which many would argue are non-negotiable pre requisites for any working model – includes a mobile, social and visual workplace. Key technologies include:

  • Hi speed network able to stream video or collaborate on document in real-time
  • Presence that's device-independent and federated, so you can quickly find and contact anyone
  • Secure access to data and applications
  • Mobile device/s that are appriopriate for the tasks
  • Enterprise applications that work in a mobile and remote environment.

2. Implementing

A core challenge is moving towards an outcomes-based management system and away from a time and attendance based value system. In other words, a progressive way of evaluating employee contributions. Outcome based management means arriving early and leaving late no longer equates to being a hard worker – not for employee or manager. Finally, work smarter not harder is being replaced with work smarter and work effectively.

But measuring this requires a shift in thinking; how do you assess your workers when you can’t see them? And how do you show your bosses what you’re doing without suffocating them with email updates, notes on notes about a webinar and six pages of minutes from a video conference.

Formalised change and leadership management is key to any sustainable teleworking model. You might need to establish new business rules for example, emails sent and received out of ‘office hours’ (like, on Sundays at 3pm) don’t require immediate responses and should stipulate an action deadline for the recipient.

To prevent possible disassociation and employee disengagement, some days in each week should be spent in the office or, at a satellite "teleworking station".

Providing and monitoring a safe working environment is a challenge for firms considering Flexible Working. You must have a functional BYOD policy. Do social media platforms make your work more productive or provide a distraction for employees? How do you set KPIs?

Australia’s flexi-workers

So, who’s there already – at the flexible working Utopia? Countless Australian SMEs are already implementing flexible working: it’s cost-effective, they’re less bound by HR and legal liabilities, the owners have access to the business funding, and their inherently simpler and smaller structures aren’t as hindered by the red-tape of heavy corporate policy. Government and large corporates are faced with the greatest challenges, and perhaps have the farthest distance to go...

We might go further and venture that the next wave of business growth and opportunity will come directly from an organisation’s ability to embrace these new technologies and ways of work. Done well, flexible working creates sustainable competitive advantage in the form of top talent retention and a reduction in the fixed-cost for property.

So, where are you? Take our 5-minute Flexible Working survey and benchmark your organisation (we'll send you a copy of the results, and we're giving away a Samsung Galaxy tablet).

You can view our Flexible Working presentation on SlideShare.

Tags Innovation, Flexible Woking, remote access, Teleworking, work smarter


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