What is the business case for flexible working?

BD: Affordable technology already exists to allow businesses of all sizes to become smarter working companies. Things as simple as choosing laptops or tablets instead of desktops for your employees are a good place to start.

Combining these with smartphones and 4G dongles makes an enormous difference by providing connectivity no matter where you are. In terms of software, companies should look to cloud-based programs like Google Docs and Microsoft 365, as well as video conferencing tools like Skype and Google Hangout. Taken together, this package gives a workforce everything it needs to work from anywhere at any time.

TRP: Is there a place for flexible working in SMEs?

BD: There is a myth that says only big corporates can afford to offer their employees flexible working, but that's not true at all. SMEs have as much to gain from being 'flexible by default' as a large business, and in many cases they'll see a greater advantage in the short term.

Small businesses are, by their very nature, more agile than large ones so implementing smarter working policies early on keeps costs down and employee satisfaction high – both of which are vital to any business just getting off the ground. A key part of building a successful business lies in getting the culture right from the outset. Flexible working has a role to play here because it allows entrepreneurs to emphasise results over time spent at a desk.

TRP: How do you effectively manage a flexible workforce?

BD: At O2, we offer and encourage flexible working for any employee. It's not just about implementing flexible working policies and managing remote workers, it's about changing the way all of us work. The leadership team drive flexible working and ensure that the right tools and technology are in place to help all employees be more productive, regardless of where they are based. We trust our teams to do the right thing and, as before, the results speak for themselves. Since our flexible working pilot in 2012 we have continued to attract and retain the best talent.

TRP: Where is flexible working headed in the future?

BD: I hope smarter working will soon be commonplace among Britain's businesses, because, as I've said, our continued economic prosperity depends on it. Advances in technology are also only making it easier to adopt, more reliable, and more secure.

This means smarter working will be an option in a growing number of sectors, including the public sector. With advances in mobile communications, such as superfast 4G and even faster connections on the horizon, and new cloud storage and collaboration technologies that make it easier for teams to work in different locations, more and more employees will begin demanding flexible working arrangements from employers.

I think that's a good thing, but again the thing that has to come first is a shift in business culture. That requires leadership right across UK plc, from the smallest to the very largest businesses.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.