28 January 2015
There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about flexible and remote working, but little in the way of action, blogs Philip Kennedy.
The benefits are generally accepted. Working patterns become more in tune with modern expectations, while more companies are appealing to an increasingly youthful, tech-savvy workforce by making smarter use of the mobile and connected technologies that have exploded onto the scene in the past 10 years.
So why is the debate about the flexible and mobile 'workplace of the future' still going on? I believe the problem is more obvious than the gurus and evangelists would have us believe; the silos between the leadership of key business functions that persist in almost all organisations are preventing us from taking the next steps and putting the theory into action.
We're not so different
Silos are sometimes useful - they help business units focus on their core objectives. But the C-suite needs a shift in mentality if it is to break free of the inertia around flexible and remote working. Instead of thinking of itself simply as a collection of heads of business units it should start behaving as a single leadership team on this issue.
That starts with finding the common ground on which to build. HR, sales, IT, FM and finance; each owns a piece of the workplace of the future, but not a large enough piece to take charge independently. But there is an opportunity for FM and IT, which have common ground as the links between the digital world and the physical infrastructure that hosts it and its users, to take a lead by combining their interests and creating a case for flexible and remote working that the rest of the board can also buy into.
For the finance department, the story needs to be that the digital infrastructures supporting remote and flexible working carry a clear return on investment. For example, unified communications (UC) technologies can help to reduce the need for investment in office essentials such as photocopiers, and even real estate and other physical infrastructure. In tandem, the productivity of remote workers improves as the need for commuting is removed, consequently helping the organisation achieve more at a lower cost.
Research - of which there is plenty - shows that millennials entering the workforce want remote and flexible working, which resonates with HR. As will the fact that UC technology opens up a global talent pool, thanks to online applications and video interviews. For advanced users, the same technology even helps the board to connect and interact with employees 'face to face' through webcasts or group meetings.
For sales, the developments in unified communications allow salespeople to manage relationships with customers and key stakeholders wherever they are - in the office, on the road or working from home.
IT and FM can rally the rest of the organisation around these arguments and start to make some progress on the workplace of the future - adding tremendous value to the company in the process.
Building for the future
However, selling different departments on the selfish side of the workplace of the future is one thing. Uniting them behind the issue to actually deliver it is quite another.
Pitching the problem, not the solution, is a good place to start. For example, posing the question "When our departments don't work well together, how does this lack of cooperation stop our colleagues from doing their job and enjoying their work?" is better than launching straight into telling people how to fix the problem. It communicates the consequences of doing nothing and it also implies the power to make a difference.
Speaking the same language also helps people to work together, so implement an immediate ban on jargon and acronyms that only members of a particular department will understand, removing the risk of alienating people. Meeting frequently and taking responsibility also helps keep things on track. If you say you're going to do something, prioritise it and do it on time. Missing deadlines early on, no matter what level you work at, sets the tone for the whole process and should be avoided at all costs. Early successes, on the other hand, have an opposite and equal effect.
All of these arguments for technology, designed to prompt joined-up thinking, and the techniques for putting it into practice are important because everybody needs to be engaged. HR will be intimately involved in developing the policies around technology's use and the protocols for remote or flexible workers; finance holds the purse strings while the personnel in sales and elsewhere will actually be using the technology so must liaise on specifications and functionality. No one can be left behind.
I am not advocating the complete destruction of departmental silos. They serve a purpose to a point, perhaps up to senior management. But, beyond that, they stifle innovation.
What I am advocating is removing the blinkers and trying a bit harder to find the common ground between all departments that will allow us to move this issue forward. It isn't necessarily IT and FM's responsibility to drive this but, given the benefits of flexible and remote working for them and everyone else, why shouldn't they?
Philip Kennedy is EMEA director of workplace solutions at Polycom, the global leader in open, standards-based unified communications and collaboration solutions (UC&C)