We’ve all experienced the shackles of a “traditional” nine to five working culture - having to take annual leave to visit the GP because it’s not open out of hours, queuing around the block for the bank during lunch or being stranded and cut-off from the office during heavy snow-fall. However, in recent times, many perceptions of ‘normal’ working practices have fallen away to reveal a new work ethic and mentality.
Working lives no longer need to be dependent on the physical office or desk, with flexible working sating the appetite of employees looking to mould their work schedules around personal commitments. Some businesses have acknowledged the healthier work-life harmony that comes with flexible working, encouraging employees to work to the beat of their own drum. As a result, they reap other significant benefits, such as a more sustainable and cost-effective IT infrastructure. But more work still needs to be done to promote the advantages of flexible working even further.
Many businesses have yet to acknowledge employees’ desire for remote working to create a modern, efficient workforce. While flexible working is taking hold in some sectors and businesses, it’s often only of benefit to a few rather than the masses. Across the UK, senior members of staff are afforded the benefits that come with flexible working. But what about the rest of the workforce?
A recent survey we undertook with OnePoll questioned 2,000 UK office workers on their ability and freedom to use flexible working technologies within the workplace. The research ultimately found that a ‘digital discrimination’ is pervading the workplace, with 59% of senior business leaders allowed to work from home once a month, compared to only 26% of admin staff and lower ranking professionals.
The research also highlighted an unspoken trust issue from the most senior levels of the business, resulting in limited access to flexible working for the lower ranks whilst themselves enjoying the benefits. Unfortunately, this behaviour revealed a feeling of jealousy, resentfulness and annoyance from those being chained to their desk.
Businesses can reap huge gains in staff productivity, morale and loyalty from enabling more flexible and mobile working patterns among the workforce. However, the problem is that many of these projects experience limited success because they are not available to all information workers that could take advantage.
The key to implementing a successful, sustainable and all-encompassing flexible working policy is about cultural change. Yes, buy-in from the top as well as leading by example is essential to promoting flexible working best practice. However, it is vital to extend the policy to every employee whose role allows it, or the organisation is exposed to the danger of demotivating employees who feel excluded.
If approached in a strategic way, a flexible working policy can benefit all stakeholders involved. The London Borough of Merton, for example, is in the process of deploying desktop virtualisation technology across its 1,750 users to be able to offer staff access to the information they need wherever they are, whatever the device they are using. It means that staff will feel more empowered to get the most of their day when offsite. In addition, central provisioning of the virtual desktop infrastructure simplifies the management and maintenance of the core network, cutting the previously high administrative overheads associated with running a traditional PC estate.
By prioritising remote working for the senior levels of the organisational hierarchy, rather than addressing the needs of the workforce as a whole, many companies are missing out on a number of substantial business benefits. These include better business continuity planning, improved staff recruitment and retention, as well as financial savings through reduction in the cost of IT overheads.
A content and loyal workforce can only be built if these benefits are not ‘means-tested’ but offered as a universal benefit across all organisational ranks. Choice is crucial - by allowing employees to decide how they work the best, and the tools they need to do so, businesses can foster trust, loyalty and job satisfaction among employees, which will ultimately boost productivity and, more importantly, the business bottom line.
James Stevenson is area vice president, Northern Europe, Citrix