Put digital at the heart of a flexible workplace strategy

Phil Muncaster

Wednesday 1 June 2016

The number of freelancers in the UK last year stood at nearly two million, an increase of 36 per cent since 2008. It’s time to realise that growth in this sector over recent years is in part a reaction to employers’ inflexible working practices. So how can digital technologies help you address this?

Today, your employees are far less likely to put up with the status quo than they might have done even five years ago. In fact, since 2014 they’ve had the legal right to request flexible working. Employers can refuse those requests on business grounds, but doing so would be missing the point.

Developing a new strategy for work-life flexibility isn’t just about your employees. It will help you become a more productive business – and happier, healthier and more motivated staff should in turn improve your customer relationships and, ultimately, the bottom line.

Here’s how digitisation can support this new approach.

1) Evaluate current strategy

The first step should always be to see what’s in place at the moment. What’s working and what isn’t? Look to elicit employee feedback and don’t be offended by their responses – without honesty at this stage, you won’t get anywhere.

2) Identify goals

What do you want from this new programme? There are many different models for more flexible working: from job sharing, annualised hours and shift work to flexitime, home and mobile working, hot-desking and more. Do you want to see a quantifiable uptick in productivity or a reduction in absenteeism? Identifying these goals will make it much easier to measure the success or otherwise of the initiative.

3) Time to get started

This is the important bit – and digital transformation should be its beating heart. Key elements to consider as you develop your strategy include workflow applications to help staff work smarter and more effectively. It’ll also mean they lose none of their productivity away from the office, as long as they’re logged on to the same cloud-based systems, and can help to record their working patterns for HR.

Process automation tools can also improve efficiency and keep costs down as you move to more flexible working practices – freeing up staff to focus on high-value tasks.

But perhaps most important is ensuring staff have the tools they need to do their jobs wherever they are. These include access to mobile devices for phone calls and the internet, an email account and access to any relevant corporate web applications. Take time to work out what capabilities are required before choosing the device, and consider a mobile device management platform to ensure they’re used safely and securely.

4) Review and monitor

Encourage staff to take part in new flexible working initiatives by telling them all about the benefits. You also need to monitor the progress of any new policy. ACAS recommends doing this via employee feedback and also monitoring absence levels, staff engagement and uptake of flexible working.

Times are changing. Even if your current workforce begrudgingly accepts the regular nine-to-five slog, the next generation will be less inclined to do the same. An investment in new tools and improved work-life flexibility will keep your business on track and ensure the brightest and best graduates want to work for you – to find out how you can stay competitive, check out our online eBook series outlining the challenges and opportunities facing 21st-century organisations.

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