Working around the clock – is your business ‘always on’?

Matt Meakins

Thursday 21 May 2015

We live in a 24/7 world, where consumers and employees are constantly connected to the internet by tablets and smartphones. Businesses can capitalise on that – from more sales leads to flexible staffing arrangements. What strategies can you adopt to grow your business?

Today’s customers want things now – not just between the hours of nine to five. As well as service requests, business opportunities including leads and sales enquiries land in our inboxes at any time, so it’s essential we have the infrastructure in place to run the business from any location, day or night.

So, what are some top strategies for managing a business that’s always on? And what are some of the most important issues that businesses need to consider as they push forward with this model?

Virtual assistants and global teams

Smaller companies, and those without heavy demand for out-of-hours service, may be able to get away with having automated systems that, at the very least, make the business appear to be running 24/7. A company could add a booking tool to its website, for example, that allows customers to schedule an appointment without having to interact with an employee.

However, most businesses still require a human interaction. Fast internet, cloud computing, and easier access to offshore labour markets have made round-the-clock customer service affordable to even the smallest enterprises. They have also helped create the new occupation of ‘virtual assistant’ – a tech-savvy, location-independent worker who can be called upon to perform a wide range of business tasks, such as administration, customer service, website maintenance and social media.

Advanced collaboration tools – including enterprise social networks such as Yammer – also enable companies to maintain close-knit teams with members in multiple time zones. If an important customer proposal can’t be completed by closing time in the UK, it can be handed to colleagues in India who will continue to work on it and ensure it is delivered on deadline.

Managing a 24/7 workforce

A CIPD survey found that the equivalent of 8.7 million full-time workers in the UK want more flexible working arrangements – whether this means working part-time or remotely. It’s no secret that an appropriate and sensible flexible working policy can pay dividends, increasing loyalty to the company and possibly improving productivity.

While non-standard working hours have long been the norm in many service-based industries – such as healthcare, retail and transport – companies that are new to the 24/7 model often experience a significant learning curve in making it work for their businesses.

Poorly designed shift schedules, for example, can put workers at risk of accidents, ill-health and fatigue. If workers are assigned to rotating shifts, adequate time needs to be factored in between each rotation for employees’ body clocks to adjust. When possible, their shifts should include some daylight hours. In the UK, there is no specific legislation relating to shift work, but the Health and Safety Executive does provide some key recommendations that employers should follow.

Plan and overcome challenges

Coordinating teams across different time zones also brings its own employment and management challenges. For example, team members will need to know when public holidays fall in their colleagues’ countries and plan accordingly. And they would need to ensure that all customer enquiries are automatically redirected to a branch that is open that day.

For many companies, moving from a nine to five to the 24/7 operational model is a big jump – both in terms of logistics and financial investment. Over the longer term, however, it can be one of the best decisions they’ll make to improve overall productivity and market reach.

Download our free ebook to find out more about virtual workforces and other technology trends shaping today’s business landscape.