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How can organisations move to a more agile, smart or flexible culture? Much has been written about flexible working and its benefits in terms of boosting motivation, reducing absence, cutting costs [through hot-desking and more remote working] and increasing the talent pool.
Poll after poll shows employees want more flexibility – as long as it is not just about employers exploiting workers – and to have more control over when and where they work. Flexible working works best when the interests of employers and employees are balanced and when it is wholly normalised rather than done on an ad hoc basis in response to individual employee requests.
How then can employers move towards embedding a flexible culture? One of the best guides for how to do this remains Flexibility.co.uk’s Smart Working Handbook.
It formed the basis for the new British Standards guidance on Smart Working and for tools to measure progress in smart working.
The Handbook outlines the difference between smart working and flexible working – the former being a business-focused approach to flexible working “that delivers more efficiency and effectiveness in work organisation, service delivery and organisational agility, as well as benefits for working people”. Smart working is about new ways of working using new tools, new processes and new approaches to management and teamwork.
The Handbook says an important factor in conversion to smart working is that work needs to be evaluated on the basis of tasks rather than whole jobs. It states: “It is too easy to say, on the basis of traditional practices, ‘This sort of job can’t be done flexibly’.” It adds that more and more jobs have knowledge-based components that can be “untethered” from physical resources. “This requires new thinking about how, where and when work can be done,” it states, adding that no employee should be excluded from smart working. Otherwise, it says, the danger is that two different workplace cultures – one smart and one fixed – will emerge and that the default will continue to be the traditional mode of working.
The Handbook also covers how smart working should be managed. That includes developing team protocols to cover areas such as sharing of calendars and schedules, ensuring that no individual is disadvantaged by another’s choice of how to work, etiquette in online communications, behaviour in virtual meetings and sharing desks.
It suggests a need to rethink meetings, for instance, by reducing the number of people at a meeting for the whole session by, for instance, calling people in remotely when needed, and setting targets for reducing the number of meetings staff have. Work space is another issue and interrogating what the need is for different types of spaces, for instance, breakout spaces, quiet rooms or pods for work which requires deep concentration.
The Handbook also provides a step by step timeline for how to implement smart working, starting with agreeing the vision.
The people element is vital, with communication and transparency key to getting the message about what smart working is and what the benefits are for staff as well as organisations. Trialling smart working in one area can be a good way of getting reluctant managers on board. Seeing it work in practice may convince some more than workshops or events.
In addition, the Handbook points out that managers need to be properly trained in smart working techniques and smart working has to be embedded from recruitment through to leadership development programmes.
To get a copy of the Handbook, go to Flexibility.co.uk.