Harnessing flexibility: A 3-step approach for SMEs

But at the same time our responsibilities and requirements have grown too ? in scope as well as in their complexity. ?Flexibility? is the order of the day in so many ways ? as succeeding in the global, always-on marketplace calls for agility like our predecessors could not have imagined. It means we need to ensure our teams are always accessible and to react almost instantaneously.

And if customers are to remain loyal, that all needs to be delivered with a caring smile and genuine tone, regardless of the time of day (or night).

Couple that with the fierceness with which we all compete for talented employees who can work effectively under such conditions ? and the high expectations those employees hold in terms of their working situations ? you?d understand why just whispering the word ?flexibility? can make the most steadfast of business leaders quake in their boots.

We run ?Art of the Possible? workshops at Olive Communications, where we help our clients to understand how they can become a more flexible, agile business ? and better still, start to reap the rewards of that agility. In these sessions, we break down ?Harnessing Agility? into three bite-sized chunks.

Flexible working rights

It is already the case that parents of children aged 16 or under, or of disabled children under the age of 18, have the right to ask their employer for a more flexible working arrangement ? and the employer is obliged to reasonably consider all requests. However, from October 2014 the right to request to work flexibly will be granted to all employees who have been with their employer for 26 weeks or more.

This change in legislation could have a dramatic effect on working patterns in the UK, as it is expected many employees will take the opportunity to ask to work flexibly alongside studying for further qualifications, helping to care for grandchildren, or spending time on other activities outside the workplace.

The thought that your most precious team members could all soon start asking for flexible working arrangements may seem daunting ? but it?s worth keeping an open mind. Recent research by Regus found that 70 per cent of managers reported an increase in productivity after a shift to flexible working ? and a 2012 study by Ipsos MORI found that employees tend to overcompensate when working away from the office, with 47 per cent saying they try to be ?extra visible? by sending more emails and making more calls. And a further 39 per cent said that they worked longer hours, just to prove they?re not slacking off!

The technological nuts and bolts

If you choose to embrace flexible working then its success will depend on the availability of some up-to-date technology. After all, the above-mentioned increases in productivity can only happen if your employees are able to work efficiently when they?re away from the office ? and the motivational benefits certainly won?t be derived if employees feel that the systems and devices they have to work with are a hindrance.

Don?t worry ? you don?t need to blow the next ten years? budget on state of the art kit ? but flexible working does require, as a minimum, a combination of decent mobile hardware, secure networking capabilities and smooth-running collaboration software.
In our workshops for entrepreneurial businesses, we tend to focus on the following:

1. Devices

Oftentimes, a mobile device ? such as a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop ? is sufficient. With the roll out of 4G, UK businesses can now take advantage of faster connection speeds than ever before ? making working efficiently from a mobile device a real possibility, and eliminating the need to head back to the office simply to catch up on correspondence or tie up loose ends.

2. Apps

Understand what your employees will be doing with their devices and thus which applications they need to have easy access to in order to be able to collaborate with colleagues, share knowledge and ? in short, ?get the job done? even when they?re on the move. From very low-cost Android apps to bespoke suites of programmes that match the environment your employees are used to working within in the office ? the options are endless and there?s absolutely an effective solution for every employee in every business.

3. VPN

A Virtual Private Network enables remote access in to your corporate IT network securely, simply and reliably. We are all accustomed to checking our personal Gmail and Hotmail accounts wherever they may be and services such as Dropbox are fast becoming a consumer norm – why should your corporate IT network be any less accessible? With the right security measures in place, it doesn?t need to be.

The value of good policies

Finally ? once you have the right systems in place, it is vital that you provide solid management and usage policies that guide and smooth the application of these new technologies. These policies need not only to set some ground rules as to how devices should be used and by whom, but they should also facilitate routine maintenance, ensuring that devices and their applications remain up to date, in efficient working order and ? most of all ? compliant with ever-changing regulations.

Three step flexibility plan

In conclusion, if you hope to increase your business? agility this year ? remember to take the three points discussed here into consideration: know your employees? rights and how you will meet them; assess and procure the right technology to fit your needs; and then ensure you have guidance policies in place that keep everything ? and everybody ? working smoothly. Stick to this plan and you?ll boost so much more than agility ? productivity, morale and even turnover will all get a lift!

Martin Flick is Chief Executive of Olive Communications.

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