The benefits of 'flexible working' - increased productivity, business continuity and happier staff all round - are more recognised than ever. It also makes a real difference when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. For Generation Y employees, it's a must have.

But even if these benefits are understood by those outside the IT department, taking a leap of faith and implementing unified communications (UC) is still a major challenge. The desk culture is a comfort blanket for bosses and employees alike.

And despite all the hype about 'IM-ing' colleagues and working from home, most companies just aren't getting it. Our research found that more than half of UK workers still aren't able to work remotely.

The fact is that much of the technology may already be there – whether it's instant messaging or video-conferencing. Yet it's not really understood how these can make a difference to employees' everyday lives.

Where the CIO can help is cutting through all the noise around flexible working and giving a clear vision about how it can make a difference to that particular organisation today and in the next five or ten years.

UC in a nutshell

So what's the 'UC in a nutshell' message for CIOs to get across? In simplest terms, it's about accessing your entire working life wherever you are. It means having one single phone number across your mobile, desktop and other devices. It means sharing ideas across continents and time-zones. And ultimately, it means more productive employees who can work anywhere and collaborate better.

Clearly it's not the CIOs that need convincing. When asked what technology they'd most like to see introduced into the workplace, most CIOs said the integration of voice and data over a single network.

What's missing is the buy-in from everyone else about how all this technology can lead to a more collaborative culture that doesn't completely disrupt the status quo.

We've identified some advice for CIOs when it comes to making UC a reality rather than just a buzzword in 2014.

  • Put the benefits of UC in terms that everyone can understand. Avoid the techy explanations and instead talk about a future with no more clogged inboxes, dodgy conference lines or information disappearing down a rabbit hole of email chains.
  • To simplify the IT infrastructure, as well as cutting out the headaches of juggling different people, CIOs need to reduce and consolidate their number of suppliers. This is currently one of the biggest hurdles that CIOs face when it comes to delivering UC
  • Reassure senior executives that they won't be adopting an 'ad hoc' approach, which could lead to security risks and uncertainty about budgets. Instead provide a formal framework about how UC can be implemented, including clear policies about what is and isn't allowed

If IT managers can lead the charge, employees could be working almost entirely independently of their swivel-chair before you know it.

  • Duncan Higgins was appointed as director of marketing for Virgin Media Business in May 2012. He leads the Business Division's product, marketing and pricing teams.