Smart working: the new normal?

What would happen if organisations really got to grips with the business benefits of flexible working and it became the default way of working, with the traditional 9-5 in an office was reserved for the minority? A new handbook and seminar envisages the future.

What would happen if organisations really got to grips with the business benefits of flexible working and it became the default way of working, with the traditional 9-5 in an office was reserved for the minority?

Sounds far-fetched? Well, a new book suggests that embedding flexible or smart working throughout an organisation makes for better business and states that flexibility should “become the norm rather than the exception”.

The Smart Working Handbook by Flexibility.co.uk gives a step-by-step guide to businesses of how to make the most of new ways of working.

It outlines how much waste is built into traditional ways of working. It says, for instance, that there are some 10 million office workers in the UK occupying 110 million square metres of office space and that average occupancy in an office over the working day is around 45%.

Flexibility.co.uk says smart working is about modernising working practices “by moving away from the command and control assumptions of traditional factory-style working about where, when and how work should be done”. That means embracing the full potential of flexible working, including technology which enhances flexibility.

Flexbility, says the book, is about employee wellbeing, using space effectively, cutting an organisation’s carbon footprint, cutting overheads and generally making organisations more agile and ready for the 21st century.

Seminar

The handbook is launched this week ahead of a Flexibility.co.uk seminar on 29th June on Smart Working: People and Culture Change. Speakers include Gillian Nissim of Workingmums.co.uk, Christine Moore, head of BT People Consulting, Paul Clark, head of Plantronics UK and Ireland, Susan Newton, Principal Consultant of Basis and Andy Lake of Flexibility.co.uk.

The seminar will cover all aspects of smart working and will include case studies as well as how-to sessions looking at techniques that make a difference.

The handbook says the world of work is already on the road to transformation. Some 12.8% of the workforce now work mainly from home. Some 27% of the workforce work part time; 41% of all businesses are home-based and three out of every five new jobs created are ‘atypical’, for instance, not fixed hours, full-time permanent jobs.

A smart working culture, it states, means higher levels of collaborative work, an emphasis on management by results rather than by presence and higher levels of staff autonomy.

The handbook includes a range of case studies of companies which use new ways of working, particularly those who harness technology for smart working. Insurance company Aviva UK, for instance, uses new technologies to reduce travel costs by holding online meetings. Translation and localisation business Lionbridge has reduced its communications costs by two million dollars a year through using conference calls and web conferencing. Lewis & Hickey architects have significantly reduced call costs by switching their staff to Skype. Workers at headset company Plantronics have access to shared flexible spaces based around concentration [for instance, in acoustic pods]; collaboration [for example, breakout areas]; communication; and contemplation [spaces designed for creativity and relaxation].

The handbook outlines different types of flexible working and says flexible workers must be prepared to return the flexibility afforded to them. “It is important to avoid as far as possible new working arrangements that inject new inflexibilities that could compromise business efficiency. Examples of this would be people saying they must always work at home on a certain day, or always taking the same day off as part of a compressed working week arrangement,” says the handbook. “While respecting flexible work arrangements, it is important to have the flexibility to alter them on occasion to meet service delivery needs or for essential face-to-face meetings.”

Implementation

It then outlines exactly how to implement smart working, from doing a space audit of the organisation to implementing a desk-sharing policy to cut workspace. Smart working favours open plan offices and hotdesking and at least some element of homeworking. For larger offices, a space booking system might be needed if desk use is reduced. The handbook also covers areas such as smarter storage for people who are hotdesking.

There is a section on the home office and mobile working, plus information on third-party office or workhubs – touchdown and collaboration spaces for those working on the move.

Technology is clearly key to smart working and the handbook covers everything from cloud computing to using audio, video or web conferencing in favour of regular office-based meetings.

There is also discussion of the key question of how to manage smart working teams, which, it says, does not involve as big a change as is often imagined. “Many of the management skills required are the same, only applied over distance,” it says. It’s about developing trust, but also ensuring that things like team protocols are established.

Finally, there is a practical plan for rolling out changes, which includes everything from agreeing a vision, consulting staff and preparing the business case to running awareness raising and training sessions with managers and teams and evaluating the changes.

According to the handbook, it’s not enough just to change over to smart working. Organisations must continue to evolve and adapt to newer, smarter ways of working. “Smart working will continue to evolve,” it says, “and involves openness to future change. So the evaluation process has to take account of new possibilities for increasing flexibility and agility.”





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