Flexible working one year on - it's not about the technology (funnily enough)

It’s no exaggeration to say that some of our Slough HQ employees were apprehensive about the flexible working day. I only had one concern – as a homeworker I rely on the network being up and running, and the extra load had potential to impact my job.  But looking at the stats we only ever reached a 60% peak in extra traffic, which leaves a good chunk of capacity for the future.

While it was a great one-off event, I think we have really benefited by instilling flexible working across all our head office departments, who now each take a day out of the office every week. I’ve seen a real difference in the way people think about work now, with everyone concentrating on outputs instead of where they’re actually producing those outputs.

I think all of us have learnt that flexible working is not just about the technology, but preparing people for it. And that’s often about training the organisation as a whole that to make flexible working successful, it has to trust its people will still perform their duties. Companies have always based their assumptions on productivity on attendance figures, log on rates and things like that – but that doesn’t actually do you any favours. What’s important is what your people do, which can easily be measured.

We’ve also seen a real growth over the past year in people using their own devices to help them work flexibly. I use my own tablet sometimes, which complements the laptop and phone supplied by O2, and I just choose which one I use on a daily basis, depending on what I need to do. But while consumerisation is a great thing, it’s not the be all and end all. There always has to be legitimate business interests for letting people use their own gear. And again there’s a trust element too: people might be concerned an organisation wants to take a bit of their hard drive. Or snoop on them. Again it’s about setting expectations.

When you take someone’s personal technology into an organisation you can’t lock everything down.  The majority of the time we took preparing for this, centred on the ‘ifs’, and the ‘buts’. What happens if I drop my personal device on the floor, what happens if I spill coffee on it? We spent a great deal of time preparing a policy based on likely scenarios such as those mentioned above, and then used that to lay out what our people can expect if they use their own technology.

I’ve spent most of the past year talking to our customers about what flexible working has done for us and how the lessons learned can help them. Warts and all. But technology is only part of the story, perhaps more important is the need to change the way we work. And that’s what I’ve been talking about: how we’ve been changing our behaviours – perhaps grouping similar activities together on a certain day for instance. That’s why the HR department is as integral to flexible working as the IT team, as it’s they who are in the front line helping people work flexibly on an on-going basis. I’ve also been explaining how we’ve made all sorts of roles flexible, not just the usual suspects like sales and marketing, but also those who traditionally you’d think as needing to be office-based.

And lastly, it’s worth always remembering that things work better if they’re fun. Our operations department for example have created a Mission to Mars, where they are trying to save the same business mileage as a round trip to Mars.

Join the debate and have your say. On Friday 8 February, between midday and 1pm I’ll be part of an industry expert tweet chat panel. Join us to ask questions and discuss the topic of flexible working. Just follow us on Twitter @O2BusinessUK, and contribute on the day at #O2flexitweet.

To find out more about flexible working and the benefits it could bring to your business, call Matt Worth on 01235 433507 or visit our website.