Today’s business world is increasingly complex and fast paced and an organisation’s ability to adapt in this competitive environment is crucial. The relationship between a business and its workforce has changed dramatically in recent years as today’s employees place greater emphasis on work/life balance and well being. A recent survey conducted by Randstad notes that 81 percent of those surveyed recognised that working flexibly increased their commitment and overall productivity.
Agile working is a relatively new concept in the UK, but is rapidly gaining popularity across many high-profile organisations as the traditional nine to five office environment is becoming increasingly outdated. Agile working is often confused with flexible working, but the concept and scope is much broader and often difficult to define as it can be delivered in many different forms. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) describes agile working as “work as an activity, not a place”. Agile working empowers staff to work how, where and when they choose offering employees the maximum level of flexibility to deliver results without the constraints of fixed daily and weekly office hours and locations.
Agile working can be done remotely or office based, but the ethos remains the same with the focus on delivery of results and overall performance rather than traditional measures of success, such as time and attendance. Location of staff is not an obstacle and rigid management is counterproductive in an agile environment.
Most employer already offer flexible working policies, but agile working options are less common. This is a trend likely to change as many companies are beginning to recognise the numerous benefits to business of adopting an agile culture. The benefits of this style of working for employees are in line with those noted for flexible workers, mainly surrounding enhanced work/life balance etc. However, it is the benefit to a business that agile working can provide that is making employers take note as many agile workforce businesses reap the rewards.
Behind the ability to adopt an agile work environment is the requirement for progressive, empowering technology. Technology removes boundaries allowing workforces to perform their role anytime, anywhere. Agile working requires communication tools and information technology to enable people to work in ways which best suit their needs, eliminating the traditional limitations of location to perform a task.
Organisations are recognising the requirement to adopt Unified Communications (UC) strategies which are of particular benefit in agile working environments. UC is an enabler, allowing employees to increase productivity through effective communication and advanced collaboration. They integrate real-time communication services, including instant messaging, voice and video conferencing and presence information with non-real-time communications such as email and voicemail in a seamless, intuitive user experience.
UC can dramatically improve both external and internal communications in office and in remote working situations. It allows individuals to view the real-time status of colleagues, increasing the ability to choose the most efficient form of communication for current tasks and reducing wasted time. Presence information is displayed consistently across various applications, providing an up to date status view of colleagues’ availability.
UC solutions offer a range of advanced telephony functions, including short number dialling, call forwarding, multiple device rings, single numbers for multiple devices, unified voicemail box, cheaper calls, simplified billing and presence. The freedom to communicate in this way is ideal for agile workers who do not require a fixed office desk or location in order to communicate effectively and deliver results. Employees can access company business systems via intranet from any location and communicate effectively with colleagues and third parties through a multitude of devices including smartphones, PCs, laptops and tablets.
The impact on an organisation that adopts an agile working policy with the support of unified communications can be dramatic by enhancing productivity, increasing staff engagement and retention, and by enabling substantial cost reduction in terms of facilities, building, travel, parking and office space. Many organisations work with a series of legacy systems which do not complement other in-house programmes, but by replacing these with one single solution which can communicate and collaborate effectively across a variety of channels, organisations can enjoy substantial savings rapidly seeing a return on investment (ROI).
The incorporation of an agile workforce supported by suitable investment in UC certainly has the potential to revolutionise office environments as we currently know them. Using this approach can address skill shortages by enabling companies to attract talent without the need for physical relocation. Employees are empowered to create their own work environment where and when they need, at their most productive time of day, delivering optimum results. By empowering employees to create their own schedule and investing in the technology to deliver, organisations can enjoy extended business hours, increased staff engagement, reduced cost base and enhanced overall performance. With the opportunities that technology supported agile working can provide, this is a business trend which looks to be a necessity rather than an option.
*John Brett is Technical Operations Manager of Nexus Open Systems.