How can today’s businesses prepare their
staff for flexible working?
By Phil O’Neill, area vice-president, Kensington Europe
Possible targets: small / growing business publications, ‘work’ supplements to newspapers, online technology news sites.
Introduction: a flexible approach
Many businesses are keen to embrace mobile working. It promises increased productivity, reduced office costs, the ability to meet customers’ needs round the clock and an improved work / life balance.
But what about mobile employees themselves? Businesses know they can’t just give someone a laptop and phone and send them on their way, but many organisations are still in the dark when it comes to effective mobile working.
There are several important issues to consider. Firstly, where will the mobile worker actually do their work? What resources will the employee need to work productively? What technology will help – and is it truly portable? Additionally, how can mobile workers keep their hardware and data secure?
Then, the human aspect of mobile working should be considered: how can the employee communicate with the rest of their team? How will they be made to feel included in the business? Companies need to consider whether guidelines for management, reporting and communication need to be in place, as well as having the right technology for communicating on the move.
As mobile working becomes more commonplace, companies will need to adapt to the individual’s working habits – as well as their location. This article discusses some ways to making life easier for workers on the move.
Location: creating a workplace wherever you are
Gone are the days of spending hours on end chained to a desk. The concept of the global office is becoming increasingly evident as attitudes to working shift dramatically.
With the freedom of being able to work from anywhere comes a new set of issues – how can an employee work securely and safely from their new ‘office’? By enabling workers to log-on from anywhere, employers are liberating their staff and allowing them greater levels of trust with company data.
Mobile workers need to be provided with the necessary equipment to ensure the safety of the information they carry around with them – as well as their own health and safety while they’re working out of the office.
Policing health and safety across the global office is essential. As workers find new places to log on, guidelines need to be set on how laptops are used, transported and stored – and recommendations need to be circulated to outline them.
Technology: getting equipped for effective working
As the technologies that enable mobile working – such as broadband, 3G and WiFi – improve, the phenomenon is likely to gain more momentum, allowing increased access from anywhere in the world.
With work becoming more mobile, boundaries become more difficult to define and maintain. And as long as businesses have considered mobile working, the concern topping everyone’s list has been security.
The first line of defence for any laptop is a lock. While large enterprises may be able to write off the cost of a laptop, even they admit that if they can prevent a laptop from being stolen, data security becomes less of a burden. And for the small business, protecting your property with a simple lock will avoid the need to pay out in time and money for replacing the hardware, software and re-tracing the IP and sensitive data. The overall worth of a laptop is frequently put at over £10,000 – so it’s well worth investing in a £30 lock!
By providing a simple lock to each and every mobile worker, a company’s CTO can sleep a little sounder at night.
But flexible working is not just about security. Mobile workers need to use products that have the functionality suitable for working on the move. Smaller, more compact and lightweight products need to be supplied to the mobile working community. As offerings in the market become more design-focused, businesses need to be conscious that they’re providing their staff with the most suitable products for their needs – both in and out of the office.
The most basic need for any mobile worker is power: without the right adapters, their mobile working could end up last all of an hour and a half before the battery runs out, defeating all their best intentions for productivity. A power adapter that powers other mobile accessories – phones, PDAs and iPods – will save space and weight in the bag, and take up less space on the desk.
Speaking of bags, if people need to carry laptops and other kit to and from the office, an ergonomic laptop case that’s kind to the user’s back and roomy enough for all their kit is essential. There are plenty of options beyond the traditional ‘sea of gray bags’ that used to be commonplace available for today’s mobile workers.
It’s also important to remember that mobile workers aren’t always on the move: they are often working at a desk at home or in the office for hours at a time. Working at a laptop for too long can cause back and neck problems that could easily be prevented with a dock or stand that raises the laptop to the correct height. Having a proper mouse and keyboard, external to the laptop, can also make working at a laptop more comfortable. These solutions don’t need to take up a full-size desk – today’s solutions are designed with the home worker in mind: they are space-saving and co-ordinate with the modern home.
Teamwork: staying in touch
When executed well, mobile working allows staff to stay in touch with their colleagues and clients at all times, even when they are out of the office. Workers can have constant access to their emails, keeping up to date with all developments and correspondence during their absence. They should also have the right mobile phones, broadband connectivity at home and WiFi on the move, the right PDAs for their role and access to any data and applications necessary. In this way, they can continue liaising with their colleagues on collaborative projects, making sure that instead of stalling, things are kept moving forward.
By staying in touch, mobile workers will be more visible to their colleagues and won’t be at risk of being ‘out of sight and out of mind’ – or, worse still, people assuming that working flexibly means going on a jolly. Continual collaboration will increase the efficiency of a dispersed team and allow for a more consistent workflow, boosting productivity across the business.
Productivity: putting the right measures in place
Enabling your staff to work away from the office, whether it is at home or on the move, will maximise productivity, responsiveness and flexibility.
Firstly, those who can work away from their desks will make better use of otherwise unproductive deadtime. Accessing emails, files and server information when travelling on the train, stuck between meetings, or waiting at the airport, will allow workers to continue generating work and liaising with colleagues even though they are not at their desks.
By allowing staff to work outside of the traditional office environment, motivation and creativity levels can be enhanced. Employees have the opportunity to make use of the time outside nine to five, when they may feel more productive or simply need to catch up on outstanding work. Knowing that they will still be able to access their emails and files away from their desks means workers leave work with a clear conscience, improving the work / life balance.
Essentially, everyone is different, so there’s no single way to prepare for mobile working. However, if you can ensure you’ve considered all the options, equipped the individual appropriately and that the whole team is aware of what they need to do, mobile working will be geared for success from day one.