Smarter Working – are you implementing workplace trends from 10 years ago?

The future for business is to be ever more agile and flexible. Large organisations that adopt ‘smart working’ now are demonstrating that they can operate more effectively and at reduced cost by operating out of reduced office space and using technologies that support mobility.

However, we see that many organisations that are preparing to modernise are not yet recognising the pace of change and the opportunities on offer. Many organisations are currently preparing to implement forms of smart or agile working that were leading edge about 10 years ago. A key obstacle is traditional mindsets around the need to work in an office, at a desk and in meeting rooms, for most of the time and that extensive mobility is really something for field workers rather than office workers.

The benefits of embracing these new workplace trends are many. These include:

• Reduced property costs

• Being more adaptable to change

• Reduced travel – both business travel and commuting by staff

• Improved collaboration

• Breaking down boundaries within the business

• Improved service delivery

• Improved business continuity

• Improved recruitment and retention

• Improved work-life balance for staff.

If you want to successfully implement Smarter Working, here are some tips to help you make the right decision.

Challenge assumptions

It is important to challenge assumptions that are made on the lines of ‘this kind of job can’t be done flexibly’, and to look at the tasks involved to see how new approaches to flexibility and process improvement can increase effectiveness.

Organisations that are looking to move forward from traditional working practices need to be ambitious and develop a comprehensive strategy for ‘Smart Flexibility’. This means going beyond enabling flexible working based on approving individual requests from employees. And it means going beyond introducing limited desk-sharing and introducing technologies for mobility.

In our recent report ‘It’s Work But Not As We Know It’ we include numerous case studies of organisations, such as Credit Suisse, Philips, Vodafone and Plantronics which have redesigned workplaces where instead of allocated desks people can choose from a range of different work settings, according to the tasks they are doing at the time.

Instead of having personalised ‘territory’ at work, the emphasis switches to sharing on a team, inter-team and project basis. In essence, a move from ‘my space’ to ‘our space’.

And the office is no longer conceived of as just the building, but all the places beyond where people work plus the networks that connect the team and their work.

Embrace a holistic approach

Maximising the potential benefits means having an integrated approach involving changes to property, processes, technology and work culture. It involves:

• A clear vision about the benefits to be achieved

• A Smart Working strategy endorsed from the top of the organisation

• Consolidating office space in smaller premises, and planning for ‘spaceless growth’

• Implementing Smart Working environments, based on spacesharing in a range of activity-based work settings

• Enabling staff to work beyond the office, wherever is most appropriate to get the work done

• Phasing out the desk-focused mindset, which focuses on desk ratios and personal or team ‘territory’

• Rolling out the communications, remote access and collaboration technologies to enable staff to work anywhere

• Working towards a paperless ‘e-culture’

• Developing a trust-based culture and management by results, not by presence

• Working more flexibly and effectively with contractors and the contingent workforce

• Having no distinction in status between staff who work on the premises and those who work in other places – the office does not set the default work culture

Set targets for improvements

Most of these benefits are measurable, and organisations should set targets for improvements when moving to Smart Working.

The trends we have noted show the potential for organisations to reduce their core resource base while being adaptable to changing demands. Through cloud computing organisations can buy technologies as a service, expanding, contracting and changing as circumstances require rather than being locked into inflexible technologies and contracts. A similar approach can be taken to ‘Space as a service’, minimising the amount of property occupied on a permanent basis. As well as the more traditional providers of flexible officing, the new generation of workhubs / coworking spaces have sophisticated offerings to support greater mobility and remote working.

Adapt your recruitment strategy

One under-utilised benefit of Smart Working is the ability to recruit the best talent from anywhere, without requiring the recruit to uproot and move. This ability also enables more inclusive recruiting policies, enabling people who have mobility challenges owing to disability, caring responsibilities or living in areas with poor transport links to apply. Organisations need to ensure that openness to flexibility is included as part of job specifications.

What’s next?

The road to Smart Working doesn’t have a single end point. The technology and the landscape of work continue to evolve. New and more immersive technologies for collaboration are coming over the horizon. New types of screens and intelligent surfaces will bring new capabilities and interaction to a screen, wall or table near you soon.

Using these kinds of tools and Smart Working techniques, work is becoming increasingly reintegrated into the wider fabric of our daily lives. Using workhubs and coworking centres on high streets or hosted by other companies as well as working in public spaces and the home will be increasingly part of the mix in workplace planning.

Awareness of the possibilities of this much more flexible future is the first step. Then it’s time to plan for the future as it will be rather than yesterday, slightly modified.