The office of the future: Flexible working can help businesses grow

Mid-sized businesses often face the same challenges as their larger and smaller counterparts. It is imperative that mid-sized businesses stay nimble even when they are growing and ensure that they are able to react to the fast changing business landscape. Similarly, the same challenges faced by a small business apply; how to do more with less in these challenging financial times. The way organisations think about their office space must change. Technology has changed what a workplace looks like and its relationship to success in business. Your Ready Business speaks to Mike Grogan, Head of Mid-Market Enterprise, South, at Vodafone UK about how flexible working and a new approach to office space can take mid-sized businesses to their next stage of growth.

Customers are actively talking to us about their growth plans and the topic of utilising office space to its full potential often sparks the most excitement. How a business utilises its office space is often where key changes can be made. That doesn’t mean acquiring more space, but instead using existing locations in a smarter way to help save the business money and ultimately serve their clients more effectively.

Royal Sun Alliance recently reduced the number of buildings it leased in London from four to one and in doing so saved £5 million a year in rental costs. It saved a further £10 million in travel costs by enabling its people to work flexibly.

Another client, a large marketing business saved money by relocating from Windsor to Milton Keynes in turn reducing their lease. They realised that due to their clients actually wanting meetings where their own businesses were based as opposed to the marketing firms head office – they no longer required a local presence.

The management team realised that employees spent most of their time with clients, and that this should be encouraged, so a London postcode was an expensive luxury that didn’t support employees to carry out core business tasks or to improve the service they offered.

Time to think smarter about where and how you work

Creating a smarter working strategy means enabling people to work where they need to be and removing the culture of presenteeism that forces employees to be at their desks, regardless of whether it helps them work efficiently or not.

It means acquiring the tools and technology to, for example, do a 30-minute face-to-face meeting with a colleague via video conferencing, rather than spending £100 on a train ticket to another part of the country.

It might also mean reducing the daily commute for key employees; where two hours a day spent on a cramped, uncomfortable train could be converted into two additional hours – 10 hours a week, 520 hours a year – of productive business.

Finding ways to work smarter is about optimising your office space, saving money and increasing face time with cherished clients; but it also a huge motivational tool for your workforce.

Everyone has their own motivations in life, from achieving a work-life balance to securing that prized promotion. By empowering people to fulfil those ambitions, organisations see a big impact on engagement.

It can be a massive recruitment incentive too, especially in attracting talented graduates, the so-called Generation Y or Millennials. These employees are more concerned than any previous generation with just what can an organisation can do for them. Why should they work in your business and what can your culture and company offer that others can’t?

But, crucially, we have also seen the remarkable impact flexible working has on discretionary effort. In other words, if you allow someone to work in a way that fulfils them, their work rate and success levels increase accordingly.

We have observed a direct correlation between improving the way people work and their output and delivery.

It’s happening all around us

The trend is very clear in start-ups that don’t have 20 or 30 years of legacy systems to turn around. Some of the most successful start-ups in the last few years – think Uber and Airbnb – have avoided the traditional cost base and are structured on lean, agile principles.

Both are valued at billions of dollars despite not having huge building portfolios with hundreds of rows of desks and people working slavishly nine-to-five.

These are extreme examples, but all growing businesses can borrow from these ideas. For example, a lot of businesses want to invest in growth but are wary about securing a bank loan or venture capital funding because of the commitments they must sign-up to.

The same effect can be achieved by cutting office costs, improving efficiencies, making more sales and investing profits back in to the business. Organisations can easily look to boost the bottom line by using collaboration tools.

Vodafone’s Better Ways of Working team have helped dozens of organisations improve what they do in this way. We ask businesses what they want to achieve; be it to cut costs, improve client relationships or boost staff morale, and then we work backwards to find the answer.

Taking into account the objectives and structure of each business and how people work within it, it is almost always possible to find an elegant solution using technology to replace the static practices of the past.

More organisations need to understand that now is the time to change. They can’t go on using the same ideas adopted by the likes of Henry Ford 100 years ago. It worked then, but not now. Businesses can work so much smarter if they can find the right balance of technology and strategy.