How to create a flexible working environment to suit generation Y

It's about time

Gone are the days of the 9-5 working week, with the traditional 'working hours' now obsolete. No two workers are the same so employers must be flexible to accommodate for the changing needs of the workforce.

TechRadar Pro interviewed Andy Nolan, Director of UK Sales at Lifesize, to find out how employers can ensure they maintain productivity when employees are working outside the office.

TRP: How do businesses currently use technology to enable staff to work flexibly?

Andy Nolan: Many workers are provided with a smartphone or tablet device to enable them to work flexibility some even use their own personal devices. But despite these technologies employers and HR departments need to take action to address the importance of providing a connected experience for their employees regardless of location.

It's easy for home or flexible workers to feel isolated from the organisation and this in turn can feed a culture of mistrust from management and office-based staff. Working from home is often thought of as a bit of a jolly, but ask most home workers will tell you they tend to work more hours.

Video can help underpin a communication culture that enables everyone to be connected and feel part of a team regardless of location or modality. We find that flexible workers are much more likely to use adhoc informal meetings rather than the more structured "meet at 10am on a Monday morning formal type" – employees like to recreate that ability to lean over the desk to speak with a colleague at any one moment.

TRP: How can businesses harness the power of technology so that their workforce feels more connected with the office regardless of their location?

AN: With more and more businesses operating globally, it is important for employers to harness the opportunities that technology can bring. Video plays a significant role in that. This can enable staff to have the ability to collaborate with colleagues across all devices and in any location very easily.

By enabling staff to work remotely using video and cloud services, organisations can harness the power of technology so staff have access to that face-to-face experience they wouldn't usually have with traditional remote working.

TRP: What are the benefits that video conferencing can bring in terms of enabling staff to work more flexibly?

AN: More and more businesses, in fact, are waking up to the potential that video conferencing technology can bring. We work with the likes of Arla Foods, Severn Trent Water and Dyson to empower their staff to work flexibly. Now, regardless of where they are located, employees can bridge calls, share data and view information - all within a cloud-based environment.

TRP: Does video conferencing detract from the personal experience you would get from being in the office?

AN: No. The video conferencing aspect can help the employee feel less isolated, more connected and can help promote productivity with staff feeling more motivated as a result.

According to Wainhouse research, remote workers feel more connected and productive with a visual conversation. In fact, 75 per cent of organisations want to address this by introducing a mobile video conferencing solution.

This is where remote working capabilities can help, so that employees feel connected to their co-workers, regardless of whether they are in the four walls of the office.

TRP: How will video conferencing technology develop in the future?

AN: There is no question that video collaboration is aggressively moving towards the cloud, while the customer need for affordable room video systems and a more simplified user experience continues to surge. In recent months Lifesize announced some exciting developments in this area with the launch of Lifesize Cloud.

Lifesize Cloud is the first and only service that provides a connected experience to anyone using smartphones, tablets, laptops and especially conference rooms. Lifesize Cloud is delivered as software-as-a-service (SaaS) and is for organisations that want business-class video collaboration without taxing their budget or IT resources.

TRP: How can businesses prepare for the upcoming legislation around flexible working that is coming into play at the end of June?

AN: The key thing is to ensure your processes are geared up to allow for flexible working. If you can focus on the outcome of an employee's daily work role rather the tradition "if they are sitting in the office they must be working" you will be able to reap the benefit flexible work can offer all parties.

It is also a must that the employee has good connectivity back to the office, so ensure their broadband is to a good level (recommend a minimum of 3Mb down and 1Mb) and that your IT services are ready and secured for remote access by VPN. This is something you should do for good business continuity planning not just for flexible working – remember the tube strikes in London!

On the company culture side, it's important that basic standards are maintained. Dress code for home working should be the same as the office, if you are dressed for work you are ready for work.

Employees must designate an area of the home that is a work area - no children or pets allowed, and keep the area free from clutter and tidied – if you do have engagements with clients/customers you should aim to recreate the same experience as the office – no photos of family or that dodgy poster of Kylie Minogue in the background.

There are some etiquette rules that must be followed for flexible workers if they are to be treated the same as an office based employee. In the first instance they almost need to overdo it and work harder and be more professional to counter the potential slacking off suspensions that may exist. It will soonbecome normal but I would not underestimate the important role the employee and employer has in making this work. The legislation is a bit Big Brother but the principle and intention is sound.

TRP: Can we expect to see more people working remotely as a result?

AN: The number of people who work remotely is on the rise. It is estimated that 1.3 billion mobile workers around the world will be doing so by 2015 (Source: International Data Corporation Report 2012).

Ultimately, it's about creating an environment that suits the generation Y worker. It is those organisations that adapt to embrace the changing needs of the workforce that will truly flourish; those that don't face a workforce who are simply not joined up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré (Twitter, Google+) has been musing and writing about technology since 1997. Following an eight-year stint at ITProPortal.com where he discovered the joys of global techfests, developing an uncanny attraction for anything silicon, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro.